Living with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: What's My Prognosis?

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  • Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

    Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

    Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer. Smoking is the leading cause of NSCLC and other types of lung cancer. Other risk factors include exposure to asbestos, air and water pollutants, and secondhand smoke.

    NSCLC grows and spreads less aggressively than small cell lung cancer, which means that it often can be treated more successfully with surgery and other medical treatments. Prognosis varies, but the earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the outlook.

  • Staging NSCLC

    Staging NSCLC

    If you receive a diagnosis of NSCLC, your doctor will stage your cancer. Staging defines the extent of the cancer and helps determine the appropriate treatment strategy. For accurate staging, a variety of diagnostic tests are done. FDG PET-CT, brain MRI, lung or lymph node biopsy, bronchoscopy, thoracoscopy, esophageal ultra sound, thoracentesis, pericardiocentesis, and even surgery can all be used to complete the staging process.


    Stages range from one to four and depend on factors like the size of the primary tumor, whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other areas in the lung, and whether it has metastasized (spread) to other organs in the body.

    The earlier the stage designation at the time of diagnosis, the more likely that lung cancer treatment will be curative. When lung cancer is diagnosed at later stages, the possibility of cure may be very low and the goal of treatment may focus on controlling the growth of the cancer and preventing it from spreading to other areas outside the lung.

  • Staging and Prognosis

    Staging and Prognosis

    The prognosis for an NSCLC diagnosis varies depending on several factors. The most important factor is the stage of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, five-year survival rates for stage one NSCLC are as high as 49 percent. That rate drops to 30 percent for stage two. The survival rate is 14 percent for stage three, and one percent for late-stage or stage four cancer. The five-year survival rate is the percentage of people with that stage of cancer that will be alive at 5 years.

  • Working with Your Team

    Working with Your Team

    When you receive a diagnosis of NSCLC, you may feel lost and unsure about what to do next. It’s important to work with your team of doctors and specialists to come up with a treatment plan appropriated to your particular situation.

    You may work with your primary physician, a surgeon, an oncologist, a radiologist, and other specialists. Together they’ll devise a treatment plan, answer your questions, and address your concerns.

  • Early Stage Treatments

    Early Stage Treatments

    Treatment for NSCLC varies depending on the stage of the cancer and your health. If your cancer is in the early stages (stage one or stage two) and your health allows it, surgery may be your first line of treatment. Surgery may be successful at removing the entire tumor and cancer cells. In some cases no other treatment is needed.

    In other cases, along with surgery, you may need chemotherapy or radiation, or both, to eliminate any remaining cancer cells or radiation to shrink the tumor before operating. You may also receive other treatments, such as medication for pain, infection, or nausea, to help reduce any uncomfortable symptoms or side effects of treatment.

  • Treatment for Late Stage NSCLC

    Treatment for Late Stage NSCLC

    Even if you have a later stage NSCLC (stage two B or stage four), you still have treatment options. If the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, or if you’re not healthy enough for surgery, chemotherapy can help slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. In most cases, the goal of treatment is to palliate your symptoms and prolong life rather tahn to cure the cancer.

    Radiation is another option for treating tumors that can’t be removed surgically. It involves targeting tumors with high-energy radiation to shrink or eliminate them.

  • Treatment for Symptoms

    Treatment for Symptoms

    In addition to treatments designed to slow, halt, or eliminate cancer cells, you may need care to relieve your symptoms. Tumors can cause pain, and even if they can’t be eliminated completely, their growth can be slowed with chemotherapy, radiation, or lasers.

    Tumors in the lung’s airways can cause difficulty breathing. Laser therapy or a treatment called photodynamic therapy can shrink tumors that are blocking your airways. This can restore normal breathing.

  • Living with NSCLC

    Living with NSCLC

    Living with any kind of cancer isn’t easy. Along with physical symptoms, you can expect to experience emotional distress, anxiety, or fear. To cope with these feelings, make sure that you’re honest and open with your medical team. You may be referred to a psychologist or counselor to help you.

    It’s also important to involve close family or friends to help support you during this difficult time. Your loved ones can help assist you and listen to your concerns.

  • Coping with Recurrence

    Coping with Recurrence

    Recurrence is always a possibility with any type of cancer. Cancer can be considered a chronic condition, and even when tumors are eliminated, there is no guarantee that they won’t come back.

    Your medical team will make a plan for you to be checked regularly for recurrences and will be ready with a strategy for treatment in the event of cancer recurrence. Be prepared to cope with this possibility by having your support network close.

  • Finding Support

    Finding Support

    Having friends and family on hand to help you cope with your illness is important. However, it can also be very powerful to connect with other people who are living with NSCLC. Speak with your doctor about finding a support group for those who are battling or who have survived cancer, or turn to online groups.