What Does Remission Mean for Lung Cancer Patients?

If someone develops lung cancer, they usually go through treatments and therapies. Depending on the type, stage, overall health, and other factors, the patient’s tumors may slow in growth rate. Additionally, in some cases, lung cancer tumors may stop growing altogether. Reduced signs and symptoms of cancer indicate remission. If doctors find certain cancers in earlier stages, a chance for remission is higher than later-stage cancers.

Levels of Remission

Reduction in tumor growth must last one-month minimum before doctors consider it in remission. Additionally, just because the patient has reached this point in their lung cancer timeline, doesn’t mean they’re cured or free of cancer. Doctors will use medical imaging, blood tests, or biopsies to determine changes in tumor growth. Patients may still have to undergo chemotherapy during the remission phase, also known as maintenance therapy.

Partial

Discovering at least a 50 percent reduction of tumor size or growth in lung cancer patients indicates partial remission.

Complete

When cancer is in complete remission, doctors can’t find any evidence of tumors. They will monitor the patient for several years to make sure tumors don’t begin growing again.

Spontaneous

Also known as SR, spontaneous remission is considered an anomaly. As the name implies, SR occurs when malignant tumors slow or stop growing for unknown, spontaneous reasons. This does not happen often. Data shows low numbers of lung cancer patients (not in treatment) with mysterious tumor reductions.

One 74-year-old woman with an aggressive type of non-small cell lung cancer experienced the SR phenomenon. At first, several rounds of chemotherapy treatments weren’t helping. One year after treatment ended, tumors shrank. Nine months after this discovery, the patient was still in remission.

Other cancers like bladder cancer and lymphoma show higher rates of spontaneous remission, while SR rates for lung disease are very low.

What’s the Difference Between Remission and Cure?

Some may think that remission indicates lung cancer is cured. This is not the case. Cure means that there are no tumors remaining after treatments. Cured patients usually don’t experience it again, while remission only means signs and symptoms have slowed or stopped. Doctors may still find traces of tumors in this condition and will monitor patients for several years after treatment. This is to ensure the patient doesn’t experience complications from treatments or remitted tumors. Usually, doctors consider the disease cured after five continuous years of remission.

When the “cured” cancer comes back, oncologists call it a ‘recurrence.’ Separate, unrelated tumors the patient may develop in other parts of the body are called “second cancer.”

Ways to Help Keep Lung Cancer in Remission

Nothing can guarantee tumor reduction, but there are steps patients can take to help. Patients can quit activities that exacerbate respiratory issues (smoking, drinking). Working on incorporating a healthier diet can also help. Adding to that, a healthy mental, emotional, and spiritual state may also encourage remission since mental and physical health is closely linked.

Talk to your physician for additional recommendations on day-to-day improvements that may help keep cancer in remission. After five years, if the physician determines the patient is cured of their lung cancer, the patient is considered to have “survived” the disease. NSCLC patients in all stages average a 23 percent chance for a five-year (relative) survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society.