Lung Cancer: Your Chances for Recovery (Prognosis)
What is a prognosis?
Prognosis is the word your healthcare team may use to describe your likely outcome from cancer and cancer treatment. A prognosis is a calculated guess. It’s a question many people have when they learn they have cancer.
Making a choice
The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to know. Some people find it easier to cope and plan ahead when they know their prognosis and the statistics for how well a treatment might work. Other people find statistics confusing and frightening. Or they might think statistics are too general to be useful.
A doctor who is most familiar with your health is in the best position to discuss your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may mean in your case. At the same time, you should keep in mind that your prognosis can change. Cancer and cancer treatment outcomes are hard to predict. For instance, a favorable prognosis (which means you’re likely going to do well) can change if the cancer spreads to key organs or doesn’t respond to treatment. An unfavorable prognosis can change, too. This can happen if treatment shrinks and controls the cancer so it doesn’t grow or spread.
What goes into a prognosis
When figuring out your prognosis, your doctor will consider all the things that could affect the cancer and its treatment. Your doctor will look at risk estimates about the exact type and stage of the cancer you have. These estimates are based on what results researchers have seen over many years in other people with the same type and stage of cancer.
If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable prognosis. This means you’re expected to live many years and may even be cured. If your cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be less favorable. The cancer may shorten your life. It’s important to keep in mind that a prognosis states what’s likely or probable. It is not a prediction of what will definitely happen. No doctor can be fully certain about an outcome.
Your prognosis depends mainly on:
The type of lung cancer
The stage (extent) of the cancer
Your overall health
Your treatment decisions
How well your cancer responds to treatment
Understanding survival rates
Survival rates show what portion of people live for a certain length of time after being told they have cancer. The rates are grouped for people with certain types and stages of cancer. Many times, the numbers used refer to the 5-year or the 10-year relative survival rate. That’s how many people are living 5 years or 10 years after diagnosis compared to people who do not have cancer. The relative survival rate includes:
People who are cancer-free
People who are still getting treatment for their cancer
What are the survival rates for lung cancer?
Here are the 5-year relative survival rates for lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute:
Overall, the 5-year relative survival rate for lung cancer is about 18%.
For people whose cancer is found before it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 56%.
The 5-year relative survival rate for lung cancer that has reached nearby organs or lymph nodes is about 29%.
Once lung cancer has spread to distant organs such as the liver, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 5%.
Again, many factors other than stage can affect survival rates. For example, people with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tend to have a slightly better outlook than people with small cell lung cancer (SCLC). And these statistics, which are the most current, are from 2007 to 2013. Better treatments are available today, which may lead to better outlooks than these numbers show.
Talk with your healthcare provider
You can ask your healthcare provider about survival rates and what you might expect. But remember that statistics are based on large groups of people who were treated at least 5 years ago. They cannot be used to say what will happen to you. No two people are exactly alike. Treatment and how well people respond to treatment vary.
May 19, 2018
Gersten, Todd, MD,Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS