Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. However, survival rates continue to increase while the number of new diagnoses continues to decline. Early detection is crucial to improving your overall outlook.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in people in the United States. It’s also the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for both men and women in the United States.

According to the American Lung Association, 1 in 4 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 than nonsmokers. Women who smoke are 13 times more likely.

The number of new lung cancer cases is dropping in the United States, mostly because of increased early detection and people quitting smoking.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) predicts there will be about 236,740 new diagnoses of lung cancer in 2022. These cases are each classified by type and stage, and eventually their outcomes.

Statistics are tracked in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute. They’re used to calculate survival rates for various types of cancer, including lung cancer.

The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by the formal tumor, lymph nodes, and metastasis (TNM) staging system described in the following section. Instead of categorizing stages by numbers as the TNM system does, it groups cancers into three progressive stages:

  • Localized. Cancer is only in one lung.
  • Regional. Cancer has spread from the lung to lymph nodes or other nearby parts of the body.
  • Distant. Cancer has spread outside one lung to the other lung or to distant parts of the body, such as the brain, bones, or liver.

In this article, we take a look at the different types of lung cancer and the 5-year survival rates by type, stage, sex, age, and race.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article uses “women” and “men” to reflect the terms that have been historically used to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this disease.

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There are two main types of lung cancer:

Non-small cell lung cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer. Per the ACS, roughly 80 to 85 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer each year have NSCLC.

Doctors further divide NSCLC into stages. Stages refer to the location and extent of your cancer. The stage your cancer is in affects the way your cancer is treated.

The staging system most often used for NSCLC is the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system. This is a system of four stages that are further divided into categories and subcategories.

TNM stands for tumor, lymph nodes, and metastasis. Many factors are involved in staging NSCLC lung cancer. Your doctor will conduct tests and imaging to determine:

  • tumor location
  • tumor size
  • involvement of lymph nodes
  • extent of metastasis, or spreading

Small cell lung cancer

Less common than NSCLC, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is only diagnosed in 10 to 15 percent of people with lung cancer, according to the ACS.

SCLC is more aggressive than NSCLC and can spread quickly. It’s also sometimes called “oat cell cancer” based on the way cells look under a microscope.

Doctors assign stages to SCLC using two different methods.

The most formal way of assigning stages is the TNM staging system described in the NSCLC section above.

More commonly, SCLC is staged by classifying the cancer as:

  • Limited. The cancer is only on one side of the chest and in a limited, defined area.
  • Extensive. The cancer has spread throughout the lung, to the other lung, to lymph nodes on the other side of the chest, or to other parts of the body.

As in staging NSCLC, your doctor will do a physical exam and order various tests to determine the stage of your SCLC.

Because the systems for staging lung cancer are complex, it’s best to ask your doctor to explain your stage and what it means for you.

Early detection is the best way to improve your outlook, especially as treatments improve.

Women are slightly more likely to receive a diagnosis of lung cancer than men in the United States, but men are more likely to die from it.

The ACS estimates that 117,910 men and 118,830 women will receive a lung cancer diagnosis in the United States in 2022. To put these numbers into perspective, the chance that a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime is 1 in 15. For women, that chance is 1 in 17.

The number of predicted deaths in 2022 is lower than it was in 2021.

The ACS projects that 130,180 people in the United States will die from lung cancer in 2022. Of that number, they predict a breakdown of 68,820 men and 61,360 women.

More people die from lung cancer every year than from breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.

The average age of a person when they receive a lung cancer diagnosis is 70, with the majority of people being over the age of 65 years old, according to the ACS.

A very small number of lung cancer diagnoses are made in adults under age 45.

Black men are 12 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white men, per the ACS. The reason behind this is complex and isn’t related to increased cigarette smoking rates.

Multiple factors may be at play, including:

The rate of diagnosis among Black women is about 16 percent lower than in white women. The rate of lung cancer diagnosis among men is still higher than the diagnosis rates for either Black women or white women, but not by much.

The number of lung cancer diagnoses has been dropping for men over the past several decades, but for women, it has started dropping only in the last decade.

Lung cancer is a very serious type of cancer and is often fatal. But that’s slowly changing as research advances.

People who receive a diagnosis of early-stage lung cancer are surviving in growing numbers. According to the American Lung Association, about 541,000 people who received a lung cancer diagnosis at some point are still alive today.

If you receive a lung cancer diagnosis, your doctor may talk with you about probable survival rates. This number is a statistic based on large numbers of people with the same type and stage of cancer.

Your experience may be different. Your healthcare team can give you the best idea of what to expect based on your individual circumstances.

What is a 5-year survival rate?

Lung cancer survival rates are most often given as 5-year or relative 5-year survival rates.

A 5-year survival rate reflects the percentage of people alive 5 years after their diagnosis. A 5-year relative survival rate compares the percentage of people with lung cancer still alive 5 years later compared to the number of people still alive in the general population.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of lung cancer, many factors will affect your outlook, including your:

  • type and stage of disease
  • treatment plan
  • overall health

Remember that survival rates are only estimates. Everyone’s body responds to the disease and its treatment differently. A survival rate is not an individual prediction of your outlook.

The 5-year survival rate for NSCLC varies according to the stage and extent of the disease. The good news is that 5-year survival rates for all forms of lung cancer have been improving in recent years.

Research is focusing on more effective treatments that have the potential to improve the outlook.

The ACS estimates 5-year survival rates based on the NSCLC cancer stage:

  • Localized: 63 percent
  • Regional: 35 percent
  • Distant: 7 percent
  • All stages combined: 25 percent

As with NSCLC, the 5-year survival rate for people with SCLC varies depending on the stage and extent of the disease.

Rates for the early stages of SCLC are more challenging to quantify due to how infrequently it’s diagnosed early.

Therefore, it’s more common to include the 5-year survival rate for all stages of SCLC, which is 6.5 percent as of 2017.

Your doctor can guide you in understanding the outlook of your situation specifically.

Survival rates for lung cancer decrease significantly as the cancer spreads.

As much as 55 percent of people with NSCLC are diagnosed in stage 4. Here’s a look at the survival rates of NSCLC by stage:

Non-small cell lung cancer5-year survival rate with treatment
stage 154 percent
stage 235 percent
stage 3A10 to 15 percent
stage 3Bless than 5 percent
stage 4less than 2 percent

SCLC tends to have a less favorable outlook with an overall 5-year survival rate of only 7 percent. It’s not typically grouped into stages but is classified as limited or extensive depending on how far it has spread.

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

If you complete treatments and are declared cancer-free, your doctor will likely want you to maintain regular checkups. This is because cancer, even when initially treated successfully, can come back. Expect to see your doctor at least every 6 months for the first 2 to 3 years.

Lung cancer has a recurrence risk of 30 to 77 percent after surgical removal, and another 2 to 5 percent of people develop a second tumor.

For NSCLC, about 30 to 55 percent of people relapse within 5 years of surgery. The majority of people who develop SCLC will relapse. The outlook for recurrent SCLC is less favorable, with an average survival time of 5 months when treated with chemotherapy.

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

Lung cancer is a serious disease, but advances in treatment are being made every day and survival rates are increasing. The most common group of lung cancers, NSCLCs, have a better outlook than SCLCs.

Survival rates can give you a rough idea of what to expect, but factors like your age, overall health, and the type of lung cancer you have can all affect your outlook.

Your doctor can best advise you about how to proceed with your treatment and give you the most precise outlook.