There are many different types of lung cancer, but the two main types are small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). About 15% of lung cancers are SCLC, while 85% are NSCLC.
SCLC grows quickly and has often already reached an advanced stage when it is diagnosed. NSCLC, on the other hand, is more slow growing and may be diagnosed at a stage when it can be surgically removed. The outlook after treatment for patients with these forms of lung cancer is described below.
Non-small cell lung cancer
There are four main stages to lung cancer and in 2007, a study called the Lung Cancer Staging Project gathered data for 81,000 lung cancer patients and gave survival statistics for people with different stages of NSCLC. For each stage, the cancer is further divided into stages A and B.
This first stage of the disease is associated with the best treatment outcome because it is often possible to surgically remove stage 1 tumors. Between 59% and 73% of people with stage 1A will survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis, while for those with stage 1B, the figure is between 43% and 58%.
For stage 2A, it is projected that between 36% and 46% will survive for at least five years or more after diagnosis if they receive treatment, while for stage 2 B, this figure is between 25% and 36%.
Stage 1 and Stage 2 Lung Cancer
The survival statistics start to fall with more advanced stages of lung cancer. For stage 3A, the five year survival rate after diagnosis is between 19% and 24%, while for those with stage 3B, the figure is 7% to 9%.
This the most advanced stage of lung cancer, when the cancer has spread beyond the lung to other parts of the body. The survival statistics for stage 4 lung cancer are very low. For individuals with stage 4 disease, only between 2 and 13% will survive for at least five years after diagnosis.
Stage 3 and Stage 4 Lung Cancer
Small cell lung cancer is sometimes divided into two groups: limited disease, which describes cancer that has not yet spread beyond the lung and extensive disease, where the cancer has spread beyond the lung.
Around 30% of people diagnosed with small cell lung cancer have limited disease when the cancer is diagnosed and, with treatment, around one quarter of those will survive for at least 2 years. Two thirds of individuals with small cell lung cancer already have extensive disease when their condition is diagnosed. The chances of survival are low and even with treatment, less than 5% survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis.
Below, are survival statistics generated by the Lung Cancer Staging Project based on stage for 8,000 patients with small cell lung cancer.
Of patients diagnosed with stage 1A, 40% will survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis, while for those with stage 1B, the figure is 20%.
Of patients diagnosed with stage 2A, around 40% will survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis, while for those diagnosed with stage 2B, the figure is 20%.
Again, at this stage, the survival statistics are less optimistic. For stage 3A, the percentage of patients who will survive for at least five years after diagnosis is 15%, while for stage 3B, the figure is 10%.
Here, the cancer has already spread beyond the lung to other parts of the body. Since lung cancer tends to only get diagnosed in the late stages, unfortunately, the cancer has often already spread at the time of diagnosis. Only around 1% of people with stage 4 disease will survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis.