Life Expectancy Versus Survival Rate

It can be easy to get the terms ‘life expectancy’ and ‘survival rate’ mixed up, since both involve assessments about mortality. They do differ, however, by what metrics and when in the patient’s lung cancer timeline, they occur. Life expectancy is the oncologist’s assessment, based on the patient’s stage in cancer and overall health, how long they’ll live with the disease. The survival rate is the percentage or average of time a patient lives after the diagnosis. More specifically, when a doctor or medical professional makes an assessment on a patient’s life expectancy, this is happening at the beginning of the illness. Additionally, life expectancy is a specific, estimation base on a singular patient’s condition, whereas survival rate is an average of results from many patients and is generalized.

The Connection to Diagnosis and Prognosis

When a patient comes to the doctor’s office with concerns of illness or symptoms, the doctor will take some tests and screenings. If the results present a cause for concern but are not definitive, the doctor may perform more tests. Once results come back from a lab, the doctor will then make a diagnosis, followed by a prognosis. A diagnosis involves the assessment of illness the doctor makes from test results. Once the doctor diagnoses lung cancer, they will then make a prognosis, or prediction, on how the disease will develop. This includes the patient’s life expectancy, or the number of years or months they think the patient will live. It also includes a relative survival rate, which is the average rate that a patient lives past the predicted life expectancy. If the patient goes into remission, they have effectively improved their prognosis.

Lung Cancer Life Expectancy and Survival Rates

Since life expectancy is based on the individual patient, the survival rate is best mentioned as an average. If you’re diagnosed with lung cancer, you’ll get a specific prognosis on life expectancy from your oncologist. Research from the American Lung Association (ALA) suggests that for lung cancer, the average five-year survival rate is approximately 18.6 percent. This means that about 18.6 percent of patients diagnosed with lung cancer survive five years after their diagnosis. This specific rate percentage averages all stages and types of cancer together. When the demographics and other specifics are broken down, the survival rate changes. For instance, if you only averaged stage one and stage two together, the survival average will be higher, since lung cancer treatments have more favorable outcomes on earlier stage lung cancer than in later stages.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

This is the most common type of lung cancer. Approximately 80 percent of people with the disease have NSCLC. The five-year survival rate for this subtype when tumors have metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body is approximately seven percent. If tumors have only reached nearby tissue, then the rate jumps up to 35 percent. When tumors are localized, meaning they haven’t spread at all, the five-year survival rate is approximately 63 percent.

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

Much less common, small cell lung cancer encompasses approximately 10 to 15 percent of patients with the disease. This type of lung cancer grows and spreads much more aggressively and is already metastasized to distant regions of the body in 70 percent of related diagnoses. Additionally, it mostly affects smokers. The median life expectancy for late-stage SCLC is six to 12 months. Without treatment, median survival drops in between two and four months.

Get Screened

If you think you are at higher risk for developing lung cancer or another disease, contact your doctor about early screening. They will run some tests and give you an official diagnosis. It’s easier to treat illnesses at earlier stages than later on. Even if it’s nothing, you will know for sure.

Other Things to Consider

While survival and life expectancy rates are a good benchmark to work off of, they don’t consider all variables. In the past decade alone, scientists and researchers have developed new and emerging treatments and therapies that have higher success in treating patients with lung cancer. Some patients live much longer than life expectancy predictions, but not everyone.