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Statistics and outlook for lung cancer

Outlook means your chances of getting better. Doctors call this prognosis. The likely outcome of treatment for lung cancer depends on how advanced the cancer is when it is diagnosed (the stage). It also depends on the type of lung cancer you have.

Lung cancer is difficult to treat and is often diagnosed very late. Because of these factors, it has one of the lowest survival outcomes of any type of cancer.

Below we have quite detailed information about the likely outcome for different stages of lung cancer. The statistics we use are taken from a variety of sources. They include the opinions and experience of the experts who check every section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. The statistics here are intended as a general guide only. For a more complete picture in your own case, you need to speak to your own specialist.

We include statistics because people ask for them. But not everyone wants to read this type of information. Remember that you can skip this page if you don't want to read it. You can always come back to it.

How reliable are cancer statistics?

No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people. The statistics can't tell you about the different treatments individual people may have had. And they can't show how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. There are many individual factors that will affect your treatment and your outlook.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating lung cancer section.

 

 

About the information on this page

On this page there is quite detailed information about the survival rates of different stages of lung cancer. We have included it because people ask us for this. But not everyone who is diagnosed with a cancer wants to read this type of information. If you are not sure whether you want to know at the moment, you might like to skip this page for now. You can always come back to it.

Please note that there are no detailed UK statistics available for different stages of lung cancer or treatments that people may have had. The statistics we present here are international statistics. They are pulled together from a variety of different sources. This includes the opinions and experience of the experts who check each section of Cancer Research UK's patient information. 

We give statistics because people ask us for them. But they are only intended as a general guide and can't tell you what is likely to happen in your individual case.

 

Cancer statistics in general

We have a section with detailed explanations about cancer statistics and also about incidence, mortality and survival. Unless you are very familiar with medical statistics, it might help to read this before you read the statistics below.

Remember that statistics are averages based on large numbers of patients. They cannot predict exactly what will happen to you. No two people are exactly alike and the response to treatment also varies from one person to another.

You should feel free to ask your doctor about your prognosis. But not even your doctor can tell you for sure exactly what will happen. You may hear your doctor use the term '1, 2, 3 or 5 year survival'. This relates to the number of people in research who were still alive 1, 2, 3 or 5 years after diagnosis of their cancer. This is so that they can compare the results of different treatments in research studies.

Doctors follow what happens to people for some years after treatment in any research study.

 

Overall outcome for lung cancer in the UK

As with many other types of cancer, the outcome depends on how advanced your cancer is when it is diagnosed. In other words, the stage of your cancer. Lung cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat. It is often diagnosed at a late stage. It tends to occur in older people who may also have other medical conditions. Because of these factors, lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of any type of cancer.

With lung cancer the likely outcome will also depend very much on the type of lung cancer that you have. The statistics for non small cell lung cancer are different from the statistics for small cell lung cancer. So we have presented them separately below.

Overall, of all the people diagnosed with all types of lung cancer in the UK, about 29 out of 100 men (29%) and about 33 out of 100 women (33%) will live for at least 1 year after diagnosis. About 8 out of every 100 men diagnosed (8%) and 9 out of every 100 women (9%) will live for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

 

Outcome by stage - non small cell lung cancer

There are 4 main stages for lung cancer. In 2007 a worldwide study (the Lung Cancer Staging Project) collected data about lung cancer on more than 81,000 patients from 19 countries. The study gave the following statistics about survival for non small cell lung cancer. There is a range of statistics for each stage because for some patients the stage was based on the results of scans and tests and for other patients the stage was more accurately detected by surgery.

Stage 1

This is the earliest stage and so has the best outcome. Depending on where the cancer is, it is often possible to remove stage 1 lung cancer with surgery. Unfortunately, it is not very common for lung cancer to be diagnosed this early. Stage 1 non small cell lung cancer is divided into 2 stages, stage 1A and 1B.

Of all the people with stage 1A non small cell lung cancer, around 58% to 73% will live for 5 years or more.

Of all the people with stage 1B non small cell lung cancer, around 43% to 58% will live for 5 years or more.

Stage 2

Stage 2 non small cell lung cancer is also divided into stage 2A and 2B. 

For stage 2A lung cancer, about 36 to 46 out of every 100 people diagnosed (36 to 46%) will live for at least 5 years with treatment. 

For stage 2B non small cell lung cancer, about 25 to 36 out of every 100 diagnosed (25 to 36%) will live for at least 5 years.

Stage 3

As you might expect, the survival statistics fall with more advanced stages of lung cancer. Again, stage 3 is divided into stage 3A and stage 3B. 

For stage 3A non small cell lung cancer, about 19 to 24 out of every 100 people diagnosed will live for at least 5 years. 

For stage 3B, around 7 to 9 out of every 100 people diagnosed (7 to 9%) will live for at least 5 years.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is the most advanced stage, where the cancer has spread. Understandably, the survival statistics are very low for this stage. Unfortunately, lung cancer is often diagnosed late and for many people the cancer has already spread when they are diagnosed. Only about 2 to 13% out of every 100 people (2 to 13%) diagnosed with stage 4 non small cell lung cancer will live for at least 5 years.

It can seem illogical for stage 3B cancer to have 5 year survival rates from 7 to 9% and stage 4 from 2 to 13%. The reason for this is that the staging system only looks at the extent of the cancer. It does not look at the specific types of cancer. So the stage 4 group may include more people who have slowly growing cancers or cancer that responds very well to particular treatments than the stage 3 group. 

 

Outcome by stage - small cell lung cancer

Sometimes doctors divide small cell lung cancers into just 2 groups. These are limited disease (the cancer has not spread beyond the lung) and extensive disease (the cancer has spread beyond the lung). 

Of all the people diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, around 1 in 3 have limited disease at the time of diagnosis. With treatment about 25 out of every 100 people (25%) will live for at least 2 years.

2 out of 3 people with small cell lung cancer already have extensive disease at the time of diagnosis. Unfortunately the survival rate is very low. With treatment, fewer than 5 out of every 100 people will live for at least 5 years.

The Lung Cancer Staging Project used the TNM staging system to give the following statistics about survival based on the stage found by scans and tests. The project included more than 8,000 patients with small cell lung cancer.

Stage 1

Stage 1 small cell lung cancer is divided into 2 stages, stage 1A and 1B.

Of all the people with stage 1A small cell lung cancer, around 38% will live for 5 years or more.

Of all the people with stage 1B small cell lung cancer, around 21% will live for 5 years or more.

Stage 2

Stage 2 small cell lung cancer is also divided into stage 2a and 2B. 

For stage 2A lung cancer, about 38 out of every 100 people diagnosed (38%) will live for at least 5 years with treatment. 

For stage 2B small cell lung cancer, about 18 out of every 100 people diagnosed (18%) will live for at least 5 years.

The survival rates for stage 2A seemed to be higher than for stage 1B. Researchers think this is because the study had very few patients in the stage 2A group. They suggest that those statistics may not be so reliable as the others.

Stage 3

As you might expect, the survival statistics fall with more advanced stages of lung cancer. Again, stage 3 is divided into stage 3A and stage 3B. 

For stage 3A small cell lung cancer, about 13 out of every 100 people diagnosed (13%) will live for at least 5 years. 

For stage 3B, around 9 out of every 100 people diagnosed (9%) will live for at least 5 years.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is the most advanced stage, where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Understandably, the survival statistics are lowest for this stage. Unfortunately, lung cancer is often diagnosed late and for many people the cancer has already spread when they are diagnosed. 

Only about 1 out of every 100 people (1%) diagnosed with stage 4 small cell lung cancer will live for at least 5 years.

 

Overall health

Another factor that can affect your prognosis, apart from the stage of your cancer, is how well you are overall. Doctors call this your performance status. A score of 0 means you are completely able to look after yourself. A score of 1 means you can do most things for yourself but need some help. The scores continue to go up, depending on how much help you need.

For example, if you are weak from losing weight, pain and feel very tired, you will need more day to day help, so your performance score will be at least 1. Doctors or researchers sometimes write performance status as 'PS'.

 

How reliable are cancer statistics?

No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people for example.

The statistics are not detailed enough to tell you about the different treatments people may have had. And they also don't tell us how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. Chemotherapy, surgery, biological therapy and radiotherapy may help people to live longer as well as relieve symptoms. Many individual factors will determine your treatment and prognosis.

 

Clinical trials

Clinical trials have improved the treatment for many types of cancer. Trials are currently aiming to improve treatment and increase survival rates for lung cancer. We have a section about clinical trials

To search our clinical trials database for lung cancer trials, pick 'lung' from the dropdown menu of cancer types.

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While you're reading this we're making real progress in our fight to beat all cancers, including lung cancer - the chances of survival are improving all the time.

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Updated: 28 March 2014