What is the life expectancy with lung cancer?

lung cancer life expectancy and treatment in youngstown

None of us know exactly when our last day on earth would be, but if you or someone you love get a cancer diagnosis, especially lung cancer, most of us would like to know what to expect.

It is very hard to tell someone exactly how long they have left when they are diagnosed with lung cancer, but in this blog post, we will try our best to provide you with all the necessary information so that you feel a bit more prepared for the journey ahead.

Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time after they were diagnosed. The rates can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful. Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large number of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case.

A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5 year relative survival rate for a specific stage of lung cancer is 60%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 60% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

Cancer involves cells in a particular part of the body growing and reproducing uncontrollably. Lung cancer develops in lung cells. It is among the most common types of cancer. There are five stages ranging from 0 to 4. Stages 0 and 1 are easier to treat, and people with these types typically have better outlooks than people with lung cancer in stages 2, 3 and 4.

For this reason, Dr. Lawrence Schmetterer determines the stage of a person’s cancer before discussing their outlook. There are different staging systems, but healthcare providers most often use the TNM system:

  • T stands for tumor. This factor refers to the size of a tumor and whether it has grown into any nearby structures or organs.
  • N stands for nodes. This refers to whether the cancer has spread to any lymph nodes.
  • M stands for metastasis. This refers to whether the cancer has spread to distant structures or organs within the body.

Unfortunately many people do not learn they have lung cancer until it is stage 4. By this stage, the cancer has spread beyond the site where it first developed, and the treatment options are generally more intense and less effective.

Now, let’s get to the life expectancy. Doctors classify lung cancer as a terminal illness. Approximately 16% of people with this type of cancer survive more than 5 years after their initial diagnosis. Various factors influence a person’s life expectancy estimate following a diagnosis of lung cancer. These include:

  • The type of lung cancer
  • The number of tumors in the lung
  • Any other lung problems, such as collapsed lung or fluid build up
  • Whether or to what extent the cancer has spread
  • Any weight loss before the diagnosis
  • The ability to perform daily tasks

Certain treatments can extend life expectancy, but these can also cause unpleasant side effects that may undermine the quality of life, in some cases. For this reason, some people choose to manage their lung cancer with palliative techniques. These focus on treating the pain without prolonging life. It can be difficult to choose a course of treatment, especially when an option may prolong life, but limit its quality. You can discuss all of your concerns with Dr. Schmetterer.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer? Many people do not experience any symptoms until the later stages of the disease. Common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood or rust-coloured pleghm
  • A persistent cough
  • Hoarseness
  • A loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

If stage 4 lung cancer has spread to the other lung or to other parts of the body, this can cause secondary symptoms. For instance, if cancer spreads to the liver, the person may experience yellowing of the eyes, skin and nails.


There are currently no cure for stage 4 lung cancer. However, certain treatments can alleviate the symptoms and prolong a person’s life. The best approach to treatment depends partly on the type of lung cancer. There are two main types: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

Other factors that can influence the treatment plan include:

  •  The genetic features of the cancer molecules
  • Whether the person has any other health conditions
  • How the person functions day to day

People with low general health may have difficulty coping with cancer treatment. In this case, Dr. Schmetterer may recommend smaller doses of therapy or treatments that target specific symptoms.

Treating NSCLS. Treatment options available for stage 4 include:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted or molecular therapy
  • Internal endoscopic radiation
  • Surgery

Treating SCLC. The initial treatment for advanced SCLC is typically chemotherapy alongside immunotherapy medication. If the body responds well, Dr. Schmetterer may suggest following chemotherapy with chest radiation.

Palliative care. This does not target cancer directly. Instead, it aims to reduce the effects of other challenges that a person with a terminal illness faces. These challenges may involve physical, psychological, social, or spiritual matters. Palliative care does not extend life expectancy, but it can enhance a person’s quality of life.

With all this being said, it is still very difficult for any doctor to truly give an accurate time of life expectancy, but at least now you have a lot of information to take into consideration and to make the process a little less scary. Dr. Schmetterer and his team of professionals are more than ready to be by your side on this life-changing journey and we are here to walk by your side and guide you with anything that you might need.


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