What is Stage I Lung Cancer Life Expectancy?

What is the Survival Rate for Stage I Lung Cancer?

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What is the life expectancy of stage I lung cancer?. istockphoto.com

What is Stage 1 Lung Cancer Life Expectancy?

What is the life expectancy for someone for stage I lung cancer? This is often one of the first questions people ask when diagnosed, and that's not surprising. Unfortunately, lung cancer has the reputation of having a poor prognosis.

We'll address the variables associated with survival and much more, but first, take heart. Treatments for lung cancer are improving.

Life expectancy is improving. We're learning that being your own advocate and learning about your disease can make a difference, and you are taking the first step in empowering yourself in your journey as you read these pages.

The numbers associated with life expectancy will be noted below, and these are listed later on purpose. Not to keep you reading, but so that everyone can see that statistics - numbers we have which tell us how well someone did with lung cancer in the past (and were often recorded before newer treatments became available) - are fairly meaningless to individual people with lung cancer. In taking the time to read this information you are already steps ahead of many in taking an active role in your cancer care; something that at times may be the single most important thing you can do in an effort to make your own numbers as positive as possible.

Stage I Lung Cancer Life Expectancy Variables

The life expectancy for someone with stage 1 lung cancer is different for everyone.

Not only are there different types of lung cancer, but every single lung cancer is different from a molecular standpoint. If there were 200 people with stage 1 lung cancer in a room, they would have 200 different lung cancers at a molecular level. 

Some of the variables that may affect lung cancer survival include:

  • Your particular lung cancer type and location – Roughly 85 percent of lung cancers are considered non-small cell lung cancer  These cancers tend to spread more slowly than small cell lung cancer, though small cell lung cancer tends to respond quite well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy - at least initially.
  • The location of your cancer - Depending upon the location of your cancer, some cancers are easier to treat with surgery or radiation therapy than are other cancers. Even though surgery is often the treatment of choice for stage 1 lung cancer, some of these tumors are located in areas which make surgery dangerous. Thankfully one type of radiation therapy - stereotactic body radiotherapy - can sometimes be used with a curative intent even when surgery is not possible for small tumors.
  • The molecular profile of your tumor - We currently have treatments for people with some genetic changes in their tumors. Molecular profiling (gene testing) should be done for everyone with non-small cell lung cancer. Drugs are available for people with EGFR mutations, ALK rearrangements, and ROS1 rearrangements, and clinical trials are evaluating the treatment of lung cancers with other genetic profiles as well. 
  • Your age – Younger people tend to live longer than older people with lung cancer.
  • Your sex – The life expectancy for a woman with lung cancer is higher at each stage of lung cancer.
  • Your general health at the time of diagnosis – Being healthy overall at the time of diagnosis is associated with a longer life expectancy, and a greater ability to withstand treatments that may extend survival.
  • How you respond to treatment – Side effects of treatments such as surgery vary among different people, and may limit your ability to tolerate treatment.
  • Other health conditions you may have – Health conditions such as emphysema or heart disease may lower stage I lung cancer life expectancy.
  • Smoking - Quitting smoking before surgery for stage I lung cancer, appears to significantly improve the survival rate.  At the current time, the majority (yes, more than half) of people who develop lung cancer do not smoke. They are either never smokers or former smokers. That said, there are many reasons people with cancer should quit smoking, and lung cancer survival is included.

Stage I Lung Cancer Life Expectancy Statistics

In addition to variations between different people, it is important to keep in mind that statistics are frequently a few years old. For example, our 2014 statistics are based on people diagnosed with lung cancer between 2003 and 2009 and followed until 2010. With advances in treatment, statistics may not be the same as they were before newer treatments were unavailable.

That said, the overall 5-year survival rate is 49 percent for people with stage IA lung cancer and 45 percent for people with stage IB non-small cell lung cancer. Recent studies suggest that finding lung cancer early through screening may result in 5-year survival rates of 90 percent or more. Several methods of screening for lung cancer are being evaluated in clinical trials, and offer hope that more lung cancers will be detected in this early, more treatable stage.

Lung Cancer Survival is Improving

As noted in the paragraph above, survival rates are predicted based on data that is often several years old.  Keep in mind that these data do not take into account newer treatments for the disease.  There were more new medications approved for the treatment of lung cancer between 2011 and 2015, than in the 40 years preceding 2011. There is much reason for hope for people living with lung cancer today.

The Importance of Clinical Trials With Lung Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, everyone with lung cancer should consider the option of becoming involved in a clinical trial. There are many myths about clinical trials. When considering these, it is helpful to point out that clinical trials in the past were often quite different than those of today. In the past, a new compound was often tested to see what if any effect it would have on any cancer. Most of the drugs being studied today, in contrast, are carefully designed specifically for certain molecular abnormalities found in cancer cells. As a final note, it's helpful to point out the many new medications approved between 2011 and 2015, medications which have improved the survival rates for people with lung cancer. Up until each of these drugs was approved the only people who could use these drugs - and have the benefit of these drugs - were those involved in clinical trials.

Learn more about stage 1 lung cancer in these articles:

Learn more about survival rates, and what you can do yourself to increase your odds:


American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2014. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2014. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/webcontent/acspc-042151.pdf

Henschke, C. et al. Survival of patients with stage 1 lung cancer detected on CT screening. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2006. 355(17):1763-71.

Martini, N. et al. Incidence of local recurrence and second primary tumors in resected stage 1 lung cancer. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. 1995. 109(1):120-9.

National Cancer Institute. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ) - Health Professional Version. 07/07/16. https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/hp/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq#section/all.

Parsons, A. et al. Influence of smoking cessation after diagnosis of early-stage lung cancer on prognosis: systematic review of observational studies with meta-analysis. British Medical Journal BMJ2010:340:b5569. Published online 21 January 2010.

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