Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for the majority of the lung cancers noted while small cell lung cancer accounts for about 20% of all the reported lung cancer cases. Cancer in lungs may have occurred directly in the lungs or following the spread of cancer cells from a different location.
Lung cancer is commonly noted in older adults while individuals under the age of 45 years are also affected in certain instances. Smoking of cigarette or other tobacco products is the leading cause of lung cancer wherein the risk of lung cancers is directly proportional to the number of cigarettes smoked per day and duration of the habit.
Other risk factors that are associated with lung cancer include: air pollution, toxic products in drinking water, exposure to radon gas (a radioactive gas) and asbestos, family history, radiation exposure and exposure to certain chemicals such as uranium or coal products that are known to cause cancers.
Earlier diagnosis and prompt care of cancer is associated with better prognosis. The treatment options for lung cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The type of treatment option chosen is based on the type of cancer, its severity, age of the affected individual and presence of other complications. In certain instances a combination of these treatment options may also be advised.
Surgical therapies involve removal of the affected parts of the lungs while radiation therapy involves controlled exposure of the affected parts of the lungs to X-rays for a certain period of time. Chemotherapy involves the administration of drugs either through a blood vessel or as tablets that need to be consumed orally. Surgical procedures are aimed at complete removal of the cancerous cells.
While this may be easier in earlier stages of cancer wherein complete removal can be assured, it becomes difficult as the cancer becomes extensive. Such cases may require radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Radiotherapy is advised for cancer which has spread extensively and cannot be surgically removed. Both radiotherapy and chemotherapy are aimed at killing the cancerous cells.
The outcome of treatment for lung cancer is dependent on factors such as: type of lung cancer, the severity of the cancer, spread of cancer to adjacent structures, age of the affected individual and the response to treatment.
Lung cancer is a mortal disorder wherein almost about 60% of the affected individuals die within a year of being diagnosed with cancer. Some individuals may however get cured and live on for many more years following proper diagnosis and treatment.
The term ‘survival rate’ refers to the chances of survival of an individual diagnosed with cancer. Earlier diagnosis and appropriate care is associated with better survival rates. Another term used in medical terminology is ‘5 year survival rate’. This refers to the percentage of individuals who survive for 5 years following identification of cancer in them. Affected individuals who undergo corrective treatment procedures have a better 5 year survival rate than untreated individuals.
The treatment option and the survival rate are based on the stage of lung cancer. Cancers in general are categorized into 4 main stages with stage I denoting least involvement and stage IV denoting advanced stage.
The five year survival rate of the two types of lung cancer has been given below.
Non-small Cell Lung Cancer
Stage I – 47%
Stage II – 26%
Stage III – 8%
Stage IV – 2%
These statistics indicate that 47% of the individuals with non-small cell lung cancer in the initial stages have a chance to survive for 5 years or more following diagnosis of cancer while only 2% of the affected individuals are able to survive beyond 5 years in the advanced stages of lung cancer.
Small Cell Lung Cancer
The survival rates for small cell lung cancer is much lesser wherein only 10-15% of individuals with limited spread of cancer are able to survive for 5 years or more.
The prognosis is much poorer with extensive type wherein only 1-2% of the affected individuals survive beyond 5 years.
Recent updates on Survival Rate
Some of the recent studies have reported promising results in the survival rates of individuals suffering from lung cancer.
Aggressive treatment of earlier stages of lung cancer is associated with better survival rates than untreated cases. It was noted that individuals who underwent aggressive treatment lived for 2-3 years while untreated individuals failed to survive beyond 3-4 months.
The 5 year survival rates in individuals younger than 30 years following surgical removal of the cancerous tissues was almost about 85%. Earlier age of diagnosis, uncomplicated lung cancer progression and prompt therapy are associated with increased survival rates.
The addition of chemotherapy in the treatment plan for individuals affected with lung cancer was noted to improve survival rates in a study conducted in the United States. In this study, individuals suffering from lung cancer were treated with chemotherapy following surgical removal of the cancerous tissues in the lungs. It was noted that the overall survival rate and the cancer-free survival rate increased to a notable extent in individuals treated with chemotherapy when compared to individuals who did not receive chemotherapy.
A new treatment reported by the doctors at Temple University has been proposed to double the survival rates in individuals affected with lung cancer. Based on the treatment performed in their university, the doctors concluded that the new type of radiation therapy known as stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) not only improves the survival rate but also reduces the need for conventional surgical and radiation therapies.
The survival rates are better when the cancer is diagnosed in its earlier stages. In some instances the cancer is diagnosed in the advanced stages wherein it may have spread either to the adjacent structures or to other organs located far away from the lungs. In such cases the survival rates are decreased owing to the difficulty in treating and the complications associated with the extensive spread of the cancer.
However, it should be noted that the survival rates vary with each individual. Furthermore, it is also dependent numerous factors such as the type of treatment opted, the response noted to the treatment, the ability to clear cancerous tissues, elimination of risk factors, the extent of spread of the cancer and general health of the affected individual.