Lung cancer is often curable if caught while still contained in your lung. Lung cancer that has spread beyond your lung isn’t usually considered curable.

The American Cancer Society estimates that there were approximately 236,740 new lung cancer cases in the United States in 2022.

About half of the people with lung cancer have cancer spread to distant body parts by the time they’re diagnosed. When this happens, the goal of treatment is usually to manage symptoms and prolong survival instead of trying to eliminate the cancer.

This article examines what treatments your doctor may recommend to cure your cancer or help you manage your symptoms.

Lung cancer has the highest chance of being curable when contained in one lung. Doctors typically consider your cancer cured if there are no signs of cancer for at least 5 years after treatment.

If your cancer is caught early, your doctor may recommend treatment to try to cure your cancer. They will likely recommend palliative treatment if your cancer is advanced. Palliative treatment focuses on improving your quality of life by reducing symptoms and increasing your survival time.

Treatment aimed at curing your cancer is usually more intense than palliative treatment. It gives you a better chance of eliminating cancer but also has a greater chance of side effects.

Questions to ask your doctor

It’s a good idea to gather a list of questions to ask your doctor before you start treatment. Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • What are my treatment options?
  • Which treatment do you recommend and why?
  • Is the goal of my treatment to cure my cancer or manage my symptoms?
  • What are the benefits and risks of each treatment option?
  • How will I know if my treatment is working?
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Many treatments are used for lung cancer. Each one comes with benefits and potential risks. Here’s a look at the most common options.


Surgery may be an option if your cancer is contained in your lung. It usually involves removing the tumor, surrounding lung tissue, and lymph nodes.

Surgery may be effective at curing your cancer by itself or combined with other treatments such as chemotherapy.

Surgery comes with some risks, such as:

Recovery from surgery can take weeks to months.

Learn more about surgery for lung cancer.


Chemotherapy involves taking drugs by mouth or IV that kill or slow the growth of cancer cells.

Chemotherapy can be effective at controlling or curing cancer, but it can also damage healthy cells in your body that may lead to side effects, including:

Learn more about chemotherapy for lung cancer.

Radiation therapy

Doctors use radiation therapy to shrink a tumor before surgery or to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Sometimes, radiation therapy is the main treatment for lung cancer if you aren’t healthy enough to have surgery or if your cancer has spread too far to be surgically removed.

Lung cancer often spreads to the brain, so doctors sometimes administer radiation therapy to your brain in advance to prevent this from happening.

Side effects of radiation therapy become more likely at higher doses. They can include:

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a drug treatment that targets genes, proteins, or other factors related to cancer growth. Unlike chemotherapy, targeted therapy drugs specifically target cancer cells and avoid damaging healthy cells.

Side effects of targeted therapy vary between medications but can include:

Learn more about targeted therapy for lung cancer.


Immunotherapy supports your immune system’s ability to recognize and kill cancer cells. It can potentially increase the amount of your survival time after diagnosis.

In a 2022 study, researchers found that adding the immunotherapy drug nivolumab to a treatment plan consisting of chemotherapy and surgery significantly increased survival for people with early-stage lung cancer. The median survival increased from 20.8 months without nivolumab to 31.6 months with it.

Some of the potential side effects of immunotherapy include:

  • fatigue
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • rashes
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • muscle and bone pain

Learn more about immunotherapy for lung cancer.

The survival rate for lung cancer largely depends on your cancer type and how far it’s advanced. The two main types of lung cancer are called small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Doctors often use a 5-year relative survival rate to estimate your chances of survival. This statistic measures how many people with cancer are alive after 5 years compared to people without cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for NSCLC from 2011 to 2017 was:

NSCLC Stage5-year relative survival rate
Localized (contained to lung)64%
Regional (spread to nearby lymph nodes)37%
Distant (spread to distant areas)8%
All stages26%

And for SCLC:

SCLC Stage5-year relative survival rate
All stages7%

Factors influencing outlook

Factors that negatively influence your chances of survival include:

  • losing more than 5% of your body weight before treatment
  • poorer ability to perform everyday activities
  • male sex
  • poor overall health
  • certain gene mutations
  • smoking

Lung cancer is usually considered curable if caught in the early stages. It’s usually not curable if it spreads to distant tissues.

Many combinations of treatments are used to treat lung cancer. Your cancer team can help you weigh the pros and cons of each.