Overview

Lung cancer is a very common type of cancer. In fact, lung cancer is the second leading type of cancer diagnosed in American men and women. Lung cancer is also the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for both American men and women. One in every four cancer-related deaths is from lung cancer.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer. Women who smoke are 13 times more likely when compared with nonsmokers.

About 14 percent of new cancer cases in the United States are lung cancer cases. That equals out to about 225,000 new cases of lung cancer each year.

Types of lung cancer

There are three main types of lung cancer. One type, non-small cell lung cancer, is the most common. The type you have affects the type of treatment you’ll receive.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

This is the most common type of lung cancer. Roughly 85 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer each year have non-small cell lung cancer.

Doctors further divide NSCLC into stages. Stages refer to the location and scale of the cancer, and affect the way your cancer is treated.

Stage 1Cancer is only located in the lungs.
Stage 2Cancer is located in the lungs and maybe in the lymph nodes near the lungs.
Stage 3Cancer is located in the lungs and lymph nodes in the middle of the chest.
Stage 3ACancer is extensive but localized to one side of the lung.
Stage 3BCancer has spread to lymph nodes on both sides of the lungs.
Stage 4Cancer has spread to both lungs or to another part of the body. This stage is considered the most advanced.

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

Less common than NSCLC, SCLC is only diagnosed in 10 to 15 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer. This type of lung cancer is more aggressive than NSCLC and can spread quickly. SCLC is also sometimes called oat cell cancer.

Doctors assign stages to SCLC using two different methods. The first is the TNM staging system. TNM stands for tumor, lymph nodes, and metastasis. Your doctor will assign a number to each category to help determine the stage of your SCLC.

More commonly, small cell lung cancer is also divided into limited or extensive stage. Limited stage is when the cancer is confined to one lung and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes. But has not traveled to the opposite lung or distant organs.

Extensive stage is when cancer is found in both lungs and may be found in lymph nodes on either side of the body. It may have also spread to distant organs including bone marrow.

Because the system for staging lung cancer is complex, you should ask your doctor to explain your stage and what it means for you. Early detection is the best way to improve your outlook.

Lung carcinoid tumor

This is the least common of the three main types of lung cancer. Less than 5 percent of lung cancers diagnosed each year are lung carcinoid tumors. These slow growing tumors rarely spread. Lung carcinoid tumors are also sometimes called neuroendocrine tumors.

Doctors stage lung carcinoid tumors using the TNM system, the same as the one used for NSCLC.

Lung cancer stats

Lung cancer and gender

Men are slightly more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than women. Almost 118,000 men are diagnosed in the United States every year. For women, the number is close to 106,000 a year.

This trend holds up for lung cancer-related deaths, too. About 158,000 people in the United States will die because of lung cancer each year. Of that number, 86,000 are men, and 72,000 are women.

To put that into perspective, the chance a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime is 1 in 14. For women, that chance is 1 in 17.

Lung cancer stats

Lung cancer and age

More people die from lung cancer every year than from breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. The average age of a lung cancer diagnosis is 70. The majority of diagnoses are in adults over the age of 65. Less than two percent of lung cancer diagnoses are made in adults under age 45.

Lung cancer and race

Black men are 20 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white men. The rate of diagnosis among black women is about 10 percent lower than in white women. The total of men diagnosed with lung cancer is still higher than the number of black women and white women diagnosed with the disease.

Survival rates

Lung cancer is a very serious type of cancer. It is often fatal for people who are diagnosed with it. But that is slowly changing.

People who are diagnosed with early stage lung cancer are surviving in growing numbers. More than 430,000 people who were diagnosed with lung cancer at some point are still alive today.

Each type and stage of lung cancer has a different survival rate. A survival rate is a measure of how many people are alive by a certain time after they were diagnosed. For example, a five-year lung cancer survival rate tells you how many people are living five years after they were diagnosed with lung cancer.

Remember that survival rates are only estimates, and everyone’s body reacts to lung cancer, and responds to treatment, in a different way. If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, many factors will affect your outlook, including your stage, treatment plan, and overall health.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

The five-year survival rate for NSCLC differs depending on the stage of the disease.

StageFive-year survival rate
1A49 percent
1B45 percent
2A30 percent
2B31 percent
3A14 percent
3B5 percent
4, or metastatic1 percent
*All data courtesy of American Cancer Society

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

As with NSCLC, the five-year survival rate for people with SCLC varies depending on the stage of the SCLC.

StageSurvival rate
131 percent
219 percent
38 percent
4, or metastatic2 percent
*All data courtesy of American Cancer Society

Lung carcinoid tumors

Lung carcinoid tumors are also divided into stages with corresponding survival rates.

StageSurvival rate
193 percent
285 percent
375 percent
457 percent
*All data courtesy of American Cancer Society

Outlook

If you complete treatments and are declared cancer-free, your doctor will likely want you to maintain regular check-ups. That is because cancer, even when initially treated successfully, can come back. For that reason, after treatment is completed you will continue to follow up with your oncologist for a surveillance period.

A surveillance period will typically last for 5 years because the risk of recurrence is highest in the first 5 years after treatment. Your risk of recurrence will depend on the type of lung cancer you have and the stage at diagnosis.

Once you complete your treatments, expect to see your doctor at least every six months for the first 2 to 3 years. If, after that period of time, your doctor has not seen any changes or areas of concern, they may recommend reducing your visits to once a year. Your risk of recurrence decreases the further out you get from your treatment.

During your follow-up visits, your doctor may request imaging tests to check for the cancer’s return or new cancer development. It is important that you follow up with your oncologist and report any new symptoms right away.

If you have advanced lung cancer, your doctor will talk to you about ways to manage your symptoms. These symptoms can include:

  • pain
  • cough
  • headaches or other neurological symptoms
  • side effects of any treatments