What Is Stage 3 Lung Cancer Life Expectancy?

Factors That Affect Stage III Lung Cancer Survival

Doctor talking to clients in office
What is the life expectancy for stage 3 lung cancer?. Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

What Is Stage 3 Lung Cancer Life Expectancy?

After someone is diagnosed with stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer we are often asked is “what is stage 3 lung cancer life expectancy?” Not unexpected, since 30 percent of people have already progressed to stage 3 lung cancer at the time they are diagnosed. Before answering the question, though, it is important to talk a little about how the answer—the statistical answer—is derived.

Check out how these numbers may vary for different people, but make sure to read the bottom section here on recent improvements in lung cancer survival. 

Variables Affecting Lung Cancer Life Expectancy

Stage 3 lung cancer life expectancy can vary considerably among different people. Some of these variables (yet there are many more) include:

  • Your particular lung cancer type – Stage 3 lung cancer encompasses several lung cancer types.
     
  • The location of your cancer - Stage 3 lung cancer is broken down into stage 3A lung cancer and stage 3B lung cancer, depending upon which tissues near the lungs where the cancer has spread.
     
  • Your age – Younger people tend to live longer than older people with lung cancer.
  • Your sex – The life expectancy for women with lung cancer is higher at each stage of the disease.
     
  • 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 chemotherapy, targeted therapies, and radiation therapy vary among different people, and may limit your ability to tolerate treatment.
     
  • Other health conditions you may have – Health conditions such as emphysema may lower stage 3 lung cancer life expectancy.
     
  • Complications of lung cancer – Complications such as blood clots can lower 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, the most recent statistics we have for lung cancer are from people who were diagnosed between 2003 and 2009 and followed through 2010. With advances in treatment, it's likely that survival rates could be higher at the present time.

That said, the median life expectancy for stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer (the time at which 50 percent of patients are alive and 50 percent have passed away) is around 15 months for stage 3 lung cancer. The 5-year survival rate—that is the percent of people who are expected to be alive 5 years after a diagnosis of stage 3 lung cancer—is sadly only 14 percent for stage 3A and around 5 percent for stage 3B.

Recent Improvements in Lung Cancer Survival

It's extremely important to note that while statistics are a few years old, the survival rate for lung cancer is increasing.

 As noted above, the statistics we use for lung cancer were published several years ago.  Between 2011 and 2015 there were more new treatments approved for lung cancer than had been approved in the 40 year period prior to this.

In addition, several new treatments are being evaluated in clinical trials for lung cancer.  If you have not had genetic testing (molecular profiling) of your cancer, make sure to talk with your oncologist. Treatments for people with mutations known as EGFR mutations, ROS1 rearrangements, and ALK rearrangements have recently become available, and medications for other mutations, as well as for people who have developed resistance to medications currently used for these, are being studied.

The newer immunotherapy drugs also offer hope for treating people with the more advanced stages of lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute states that all individuals with stage 3 lung cancer should be considered candidates for clinical trials. If you have questions about these trials, check out this article on how to find clinical trials for lung cancer.

As a final note, it's time to dispel the myths about clinical trials. The idea of people being guinea pigs had some basis in the past, as many medications were first tested on humans with little knowledge of how they would work. This has changed drastically. Now most of the new cancer medications being studied have been carefully designed to address specific targets on cancer cells or specific roles that the immune system plays in fighting cancer. It has changed to the point at which phase 1 trials - the first clinical trials in which a new drug is tested in humans - not only are much safer but are often the only option for keeping the disease at bay. The only option to stay alive.

One last thing that it is very important to keep in mind. While only some of stage 3 lung cancer is curable, it is treatable.

Sources:

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

American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer (Non-Small Cell.) Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Survival Rates by Stage. 03/04/15. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-survival-rates

National Cancer Institute. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ) - Health Professional Version. 05/11/16. https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/hp/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq#section/all

Continue Reading