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Prognosis and Survival Rates

Lung cancer causes the most cancer-related deaths in the United States, however the death rates have been declining over time, falling on average 2.0% each year between 2003 and 2012.1,2  The prognosis, or forecast of the outcome of the disease, is unique to every individual with lung cancer. When looking at statistics, researchers look at large numbers of individuals. These numbers can be distressing, as lung cancer survival rate is lower than other types of cancer. However, the statistics do not necessarily predict what will happen to an individual.3

Understanding survival rates

Survival rates are determined on the previous outcomes of people who survive a specific amount of time after diagnosis. In lung cancer, as in other types of cancer, experts use “five-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 are not predictive for any particular individual. In addition, to determine these rates, statisticians look at the past. The statistics do not take into account how treatments are evolving and improving over time. The survival rates also are based on the initial diagnosis and do not apply to lung cancers that recur or spread.3,4

Factors impacting lung cancer prognosis and survival

Statistics on lung cancer prognosis and the lung cancer survival rate are dependent on:

For the individual, lung cancer prognosis is dependent on the stage and type of lung cancer, as well as:

  • Treatments and the patient’s response to those treatments
  • Location of the cancer
  • General health3

Lung cancer survival statistics

The relative survival rate of lung cancer compares the survival of patients diagnosed with lung cancer to the survival of people in the general population who are the same age, race, and sex who have not been diagnosed with lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute has determined the five-year survival rate of lung cancer to be 18.6%, based on data from 2008-2014.2

Lung cancer survival by stage

The stage of lung cancer at diagnosis determines treatment options and has a large impact on the survival rate. The earlier a cancer is caught, the better chances a person has of surviving. In the earliest stages, lung cancer is localized, or contained to the lung. If lung cancer spreads to other areas of the body, it is considered regional or distant. The following statistics are from the National Cancer Institute based on data from 2008-2014.

  • For localized lung cancer, the five-year survival rate is 56.3%. Unfortunately, only 16% of lung cancers are diagnosed in this stage.
  • For regional lung cancer, the five-year survival rate is 29.7%.
  • For distant lung cancer, the five-year survival rate is 4.7%. The majority (57%) of lung cancers are diagnosed in this stage.2
Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: March 2019.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed online on 3/29/19 at
  2. SEER Cancer Statistics Factsheets: Lung and Bronchus Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD. Accessed online on 3/29/19 at
  3. Lung Cancer Alliance. Accessed online on 8/1/16 at
  4. American Cancer Society. Accessed online on 8/1/16 at