Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
The life expectancy of people with lung cancer depends on several factors, including the type of lung cancer, stage of disease, race and gender. When discussing life expectancy numbers, keep in mind that recent statistics may not take into consideration the newest treatment options. Also, life expectancy is influenced by many things. Some influences -- such as a patient's overall health and response to treatment -- are not included in national statistics but play a large role in determining individual life expectancy.
Life Expectancy Statistics
Life expectancy can be described by different statistics. A survival rate is the percentage of people who survive over a given period. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 25 percent means that over 5 years, 25 out of every 100 people with lung cancer will be alive. Another statistic commonly seen is a death rate, which is the number of deaths for every 100,000 people.
Overall Life Expectancy
The life expectancy for people with lung cancer has been improving over the past 40 years, although long-term survival remains low. In the mid-1970s, 12.2 percent of people with lung cancer lived at least 5 years after diagnosis. In 2010, 17.3 percent of people with lung cancer lived at least 5 years after diagnosis.
Life Expectancy by Lung Cancer Type
The two main types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer typically progresses more rapidly and spreads to other parts of the body faster than non-small cell lung cancer. People with small cell lung cancer had a 5-year survival rate of 6.5 percent in 2009. The 5-year survival rate among people with non-small cell lung cancer was 19.0 percent in 2009.
Life Expectancy by Lung Cancer Stage
Lung cancer tumor staging is based on where the tumor is located. In general, the more a tumor has spread to other parts of the body, the lower the life expectancy. For people with small cell lung cancer that is only in the lung and has not spread to other parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 23.3 percent, according to National Cancer Institute data through 2010. If the tumor has spread to the local area -- including the other lung or the regional lymph nodes -- the 5-year survival rate decreases to 14.4 percent. If a person with small cell lung cancer has advanced disease with cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 2.8 percent. For people with non-small cell lung cancer that has not spread, the 5-year survival rate is 54.9 percent. If the cancer has spread to the local area, the 5-year survival rate decreases to 27.8 percent. If a person with non-small cell lung cancer has cancer that has spread to distant sites, the 5-year survival rate drops to 4.1 percent.
Life Expectancy by Race and Gender
Life expectancy of people with lung cancer differs by race. Overall, approximately 50 out of every 100,000 people in the United States will die from lung cancer each year, according to NCI. In general, the rate of lung cancer deaths per 100,000 people is higher among African Americans, followed by Caucasians, then Native Americans. Asians and Hispanics have the lowest rate of lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer life expectancy also depends on gender, with males typically having a lower life expectancy than females. In 2009, the overall 5-year survival rate was 15.0 percent for men and 19.9 percent for women. For people with small cell lung cancer, males have a 5.1 percent chance of living at least 5 years, while females have a 7.8 percent chance of living 5 years. For people with non-small cell lung cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 16.4 percent for men and 21.9 percent for women.