Lung Cancer Without Treatment: What to Expect

Survival rate for all stages of lung cancer

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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer, then in all likelihood a lot of questions are coming up right now. The biggest ones are usually, "How long?" and "Now what?"

It is very hard to estimate how much more time a person has, healthy or not. There are so many variables for doctors to consider. Primarily, how healthy are you right now? Do you have other underlying medical issues? There are many different courses of treatment.

Doctors can help determine which course of treatment would be best for you. Some people want to know, if you do nothing, how much time would you have left? Or, if you were to do the treatments, how much more time would it get you?

Most studies show that choosing some form of treatment will give you more time. If caught early enough, lung cancer may even be fully curable. And, if diagnosed in a more advanced stage, you can be treatable and your survival rate of living up to a year may increase up to 40 percent.

Left untreated, science researchers estimate that people with the most common form of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, might live an average of seven months. That estimate is based on all stages of lung cancer combined. If your cancer is at a more advanced stage, it stands to reason, that your survival time might be lessened.

Value of Cancer Treatment

There are many myths about lung cancer, and one is that when people reach a certain age they are too old for lung cancer treatment and nothing really helps.

In contrast, older people often do well with lung cancer treatments. And many of the newer treatments for lung cancer—seven approved in 2015 alone—are designed for people with advanced lung cancer.

There are four goals of any medical treatment: preventative, curative, management and palliative. Perhaps you are past the curative stage, but palliative, meaning relieving pain, might be a consideration for you.

A doctor will help you navigate through the different treatment options that fit your needs and that can give you the best quality of life.

"They told me that the survival rate for my cancer was only 5 percent and I said wonderful! That means that there are five out of a 100 people who make it with this disease, and I'm going to be one of those five!"

—10-year survivor of advanced stage lung cancer

Choosing to Forgo Treatment

There are many reasons people have decided against pursuing treatment for their cancer. Whether it is you or a loved one who has declared a wish to skip treatment, it is important to clarify the reason for yourself, your family, and your doctor.

Understanding cancer can be difficult. Sometimes there is miscommunication. A doctor may help clear up something about lung cancer, survival rates, or treatment plans. Since forgoing lung cancer treatment is literally a life and death situation, think about the reasons for your decision.  Get a second, third, or fourth opinion. Give it some time to consider all your options when you are newly diagnosed.

Or, if you or your loved one is completely clear on the situation, and after hearing the reasoning, you may agree it is the best choice.

This is a difficult, heart-wrenching decision. It is important to discuss concerns, but there comes a time when you need to respect that your loved one's decision may be different than what you would choose in the same situation. It is easy to care for someone when they agree with you. But it is much harder when you need to put your own wishes and decision making aside and accept that of another. In the end, it may come down to choosing to love and accept them no matter the choices they make.

Survival Benefits Versus Quality of Life

Sometimes the survival benefits may be small. For example, if a doctor feels that a particular chemotherapy regimen can extend your life by a few weeks, but it comes with some negative side effects, it is understandable if skipping treatment seems attractive.

Some may want to feel as healthy as possible with the time they have left.

Unfortunately, many people do not realize that there are options other than chemotherapy for advanced lung cancer. Targeted therapies—treatments which directly target cancer cells—may offer benefits with symptoms that are significantly milder than some chemotherapy drugs.

Before making any decisions, make sure to list out all of the possible treatments available. Often there is more than one alternative or a combination of treatments. It ia also extremely important to note that the side effects of chemotherapy are managed much better now than even just a few short years ago. In fact, the management of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting has come so far that many people have little or no nausea even on the most nauseating chemotherapy regimens.

Religious or Beliefs

Some people may choose to pass on treatment due to religious beliefs which forbid cancer treatment. This is a very personal issue for those with cancer to weigh based on their convictions.

In contrast, some people may believe that treatment is permitted with their beliefs, but feel that prayer alone is the answer. If you are feeling this way it is important to talk to others of your faith and ask yourself the question, "Could it be that the answer to your prayers is that you have good medical treatments available to treat the cancer?"

Financial Concerns

People may say that they want to forgo treatment for financial reasons. There are many resources for those who are uninsured or underinsured, as well as other ways of finding assistance for medical care. Talk to a social worker at your cancer care center or hospital if this is an issue for you.

If you feel you do not want to exhaust your funds because you want to have something left to pass on to their family, think about it another way. Your family members would much rather have your presence in their life instead of your money. And, if your family would rather have your money than your presence, do you really want to leave it to them?

Alternative, Non-Medical Treatments

Some may be considering pursuing a non-medical treatment for cancer instead of traditional medicine. Something to consider: If a non-medical treatment was effective, a scientific researcher would want to use this course of action at the very least for their own loved ones. If it is not being pursued by the medical community, chances are, it is not as effective as the "claims."

Be wary of "miracle cures." Cancer is not a single disease but rather hundreds of diseases, and within each of those hundreds, many more varieties.

Lung Cancer Stigma

Some people pass on treatment because of the stigma of lung cancer. Smoker's guilt may get the best of you and you might think that you deserve it. Nobody deserves cancer. Not only does lung cancer occur in smokers and non-smokers alike, but it does not matter because everyone deserves compassion, care, and the best medical treatments available.

Statistics, Survival Rates and Trends

Statistics are great for looking at trends, but actually, say very little about what an individual person may expect. There are many factors in lung cancer survival that are different for each person.

Since many of the statistics for lung cancer that we have today are based on people who received many types of older treatments, it is hard to predict long-term survival rates of the newer, more promising treatments.

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