Your doctor is the best person to talk to when it comes to your cancer diagnosis and outlook. Fortunately, cancer research has grown rapidly in the last few years, and the lifespan of cancer patients is increasing every day. Cancer survival is often expressed in terms of survival rates that help you and your doctor estimate the duration of your life.
Survival rates are analyzed in a large study, in which the lifespan of a large population, after the diagnosis of cancer, is observed for a specific timeframe. They are generally presented as five-year survival rates (what percentage of people lived for at least five years after the diagnosis).
Stage IV lung cancer survival rate
Stage IV cancer is synonymous with the distant cancer stage as defined by the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEERS) program.
According to the American Cancer Society (ASC), the overall five-year survival rate for distant stage lung cancer or stage IV NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer) is seven percent. This means 7 out of 100 people with stage IV NSCLC can survive for at least five years after their diagnosis.
The overall five-year survival rate for distant stage lung cancer or stage IV SCLC (small cell lung cancer is three percent. This means 3 out of 100 people with stage IV SCLC can survive for at least five years after their diagnosis.
Other factors beyond survival rate
Though the numbers look disappointing, you must understand that your general health, age, comorbidities and response to treatments often play a role in your lifespan. Survival rates for cancer are used as predictors of how long patients can live beyond a certain number of years (usually at least five years) after the diagnosis.
No two people are alike. You may respond better to treatment than others. So, do not let the statistics overwhelm you. These survival rates are calculated at a particular point in time. Therefore, it is possible that advances in treatments in your later years may improve your lifespan.
Prolonging your lifespan
The good news is that novel therapies, such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy, offer a ray of hope for people with advanced-stage lung cancer. These therapies have been shown to prolong the survival of patients in recent studies.
Also, personalized treatment of cancer shows promising results. With these advancements, the number of people dying from lung cancer has shown a downward trend. Furthermore, the average survival rates for those who are newly diagnosed have also gone up.
What is stage IV lung cancer?
Doctors identify the progression of cancer in four stages. These stages represent the extent, number and size of the tumor in your body. After identifying the stage, doctors can determine your treatment and predict how long you have to live.
Stage IV lung cancer represents the stage when the tumor from the lung has spread (metastasized) to distant organs in the body, such as the liver or bone. This is called the advanced stage or final stage of lung cancer. Although there is no cure for lung cancer at this point, treatments can ease your symptoms and thus, help improve your quality of life.
What are the types of lung cancer?
Based on the type of predominant cells in the lung tumor, lung cancer is mainly classified into two types:
- Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer, grows slower and carries better chances of survival than SCLC. In contrast, SCLC is rarer but also more aggressive.
How is stage IV lung cancer treated?
While surgery is often recommended at previous stages of cancer, it does not work for most patients with advanced-stage lung cancer. This is because cancer has already spread to multiple organs in the body.
The most common treatments for stage IV cancer include one or more of the following therapies:
- Chemotherapy: involves oral pills or injections of highly potent anticancer drugs to shrink the tumor.
- Radiotherapy: involves focusing high-beam energy on the tumor to destroy the cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy: drugs that attack specific parts or processes of the cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy: also called biologic therapy, this type uses your immune system to kill the cancer cells.
Your doctor will monitor you closely to look for any improvements or check if you experience any severe side effects. You also have the choice to stop certain therapies if they are significantly deteriorating your quality of life.
You can instead opt for palliative care and spend the rest of your life with better quality. Palliative care involves using only medications that relieve the distressing symptoms of cancer, such as nausea and vomiting. However, they cannot cure lung cancer.
American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer Survival Rates. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html
American Cancer Society. Treatment Choices for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer, by Stage. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/treating-non-small-cell/by-stage.html
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