Advanced NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer. It occurs when the cancer has spread to the point where it’s no longer considered curable. Treatment focuses on prolonging and improving quality of life.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) makes up almost 85% of lung cancers in the United States. Approximately half of people with lung cancer have cancer that has spread to distant body parts at the time of their diagnosis.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for NSCLC spread to distant areas is 8%. This means only 8% of people with NSCLC are alive 5 years later compared with people in the general population.

The average survival time for advanced NSCLC is continuing to improve as researchers develop new treatments. Keep reading to learn more about advanced NSCLC and what to expect in terms of treatment and outlook.

Advanced NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer. It may have spread to distant body parts and is not considered curable.

The most common areas NSCLC spreads to are the following:

LocationPercent of cases
adrenal glands15%
chest cavity11%
distant lymph nodes10%
other locationsless than 5%

NSCLC may spread to multiple areas in the body, too.

The outlook for people with NSCLC becomes poorer the farther the cancer spreads. The American Cancer Society lists the 5-year relative survival rates of NSCLC as:

Stage5-year relative survival rate
localized (contained in the lung)64%
regional (has spread to nearby lymph nodes)37%
distant (has spread to distant body parts)8%
all stages26%

Doctors also use the American Joint Committee on Cancer’s TNM staging system to describe how advanced the cancer is at the time it’s diagnosed. This system stages the cancer from stages 0 to 4. Cancer that has spread to distant body parts is called stage 4 NSCLC.

What is a relative survival rate?

A relative survival rate gives you an idea of how long someone with a specific condition may live after their diagnosis compared with someone who doesn’t have the condition.

For example, a 5-year relative survival rate of 70% means someone with that condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

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Survival rates can give you a general idea about what to expect, but many factors influence your outlook.

For example, factors linked to poorer survival in people with NSCLC include:

  • poor appetite
  • weight loss
  • presence of other health conditions
  • poorer ability to carry out daily activity
  • certain genes
  • increased age

In a 2020 study, researchers found evidence that cancer that has spread to the liver is the factor most associated with a poor outlook in people with a subtype of NSCLC called adenocarcinoma.

Advanced NSCLC is not considered curable. Treatment is usually palliative, which means it focuses on prolonging survival and improving quality of life.

Many treatment options have been developed, and researchers are continuing to investigate better ways to treat NSCLC in the future. From 2010 to 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved more than 17 new medications for advanced NSCLC.

According to a 2020 research review, about half of people with NSCLC that’s spread to distant areas live fewer than 4 to 5 months with supportive treatment alone, and half of people live 8 to 12 months if they receive chemotherapy.

Newer treatment options

Targeted therapy drugs and immunotherapy are newer treatment options researchers are still investigating. About half of people who receive these treatments live 18 to 36 months.

The best treatment for you depends on factors like:

  • your age and overall health
  • your treatment goals
  • whether your cancer has relapsed

Building an individualized treatment plan

You can work with your doctor to build the best treatment plan for your particular situation. Some treatment options your doctor may recommend include:

  • a combination of chemotherapy medications
  • a combination of chemotherapy drugs with a type of targeted therapy drug called monoclonal antibodies
  • a combination of chemotherapy drugs followed by another round of chemotherapy
  • targeted therapy with one of the following types of drugs:
    • ALK inhibitors
    • BRAF inhibitors
    • crizotinib and entrectinib
    • EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors
    • MEK inhibitors
    • MET inhibitors
    • mTOR inhibitors
    • NTRK inhibitors
    • RET inhibitors
  • laser therapy or internal radiation therapy if a tumor is blocking your airways
  • immunotherapy with an immune checkpoint inhibitor
  • external radiation therapy as a palliative treatment
  • surgery to remove a new tumor
  • surgery to remove cancer in your brain with radiation therapy
  • stereotactic radiosurgery for a tumor that can’t be surgically removed from your brain
  • clinical trials with new drugs or new combinations of already approved drugs

Learn more about NSCLC treatment.

Advanced NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer. It occurs when NSCLC has spread to the point where it is no longer considered curable. The cancer may have also spread to distant parts of your body, such as your brain or bones.

Treatment for advanced NSCLC aims to slow the progression of the disease and improve your quality of life.

Researchers are continuing to develop new treatments that will likely improve the survival rate of NSCLC in the future.