Prognosis and Survival Rates

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2020.

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may hear your doctor talk about your prognosis and survival rate. Prognosis is the medical term for what the doctor expects your outcome to be. Think of prognosis as a forecast. Survival rates are how long someone with your diagnosis will live, on average, based on national statistics.

Lung cancer causes the most cancer-related deaths in the United States in both men and women. At its peak, about 159,000 people died of lung cancer in 2005. The death rate has fallen 6.5 percent since then, with about 148,000 dying in 2016.1

Your prognosis is as unique as you are. When looking at statistics, doctors look at large numbers of people with a certain cancer. These numbers can be hard to hear because lung cancer survival rates are lower than other types of cancer. However, these statistics do not necessarily predict what will happen to each person.3

Understanding survival rates

Survival rates are created using the data from people who survive a specific amount of time after diagnosis. In lung cancer, as in other types of cancer, experts use the “5-year survival rate” as a marker for lung cancer prognosis.

It is important to remember that many people live beyond this 5-year marker after diagnosis of lung cancer and these statistics do not predict the outcome for any particular individual. In addition, to determine these rates, scientists look at past outcomes. These statistics do not take into account how the latest treatments may have improved current survival. Finally, survival rates are based on the first diagnosis and do not apply to lung cancers that recur or spread.3,4

What impacts lung cancer prognosis and survival?

Lung cancer prognosis and survival rates depend on several factors, including:3-4

  • The stage of lung cancer: The stage of the disease indicates the size of the cancer and whether it has spread
  • The type of lung cancer: The 2 most common types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer
  • The patient’s overall health and their response to treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery
  • Location of the cancer

Lung cancer 5-year survival rate

The National Cancer Institute says that the 5-year survival rate of lung cancer is 20.5 percent, based on data from 2010-2016. This is a 2 percent improvement since 2008-2014.2

Lung cancer survival by stage

Treatment options vary according to the stage of lung cancer at diagnosis, and this has a large impact on long-term survival. As with other cancers, the earlier lung cancer is caught, the better chances a person has of surviving.

In the earliest stages, lung cancer is localized, or found only in the lung. If lung cancer spreads to other areas of the body, it is considered regional or distant. The following statistics from the National Cancer Institute are based on data from 2010-2016 and include:2

  • For localized lung cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 59 percent. Unfortunately, only 17 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in this stage.
  • For regional lung cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 31.7 percent. About 22 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed at the regional stage.
  • For distant lung cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 5.8 percent. The majority (57 percent) of lung cancers are diagnosed in this stage.
  • Only 4 percent of lung cancers are not staged.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.