Many people are afraid of one day finding out that they have lung cancer. This is an especially real and present fear for people who smoke or who have other risk factors for lung cancer.
The biggest question on these people’s minds is often is lung cancer curable?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to that question. Whether lung cancer can be treated depends on a number of factors, such as how early it is caught and the severity of the disease.
The best thing to do is to try and reduce your risk of lung cancer. And, if you are at a higher risk for the disease, you should be screened for it regularly so that, if it does develop, you can seek treatment as soon as possible.
What are the Stages of Lung Cancer?
Stages of cancer indicate how far decease has spread and helped guide treatment. The chance of treatment being successful is considerably higher when lung cancer is diagnosed and treated in the early stages before it spreads out. Because lung cancer does not cause noticeable symptoms in the earlier stages, diagnosis often comes after it has spread.
Lung cancer starts when cells of the lungs become abnormal and grow out of control. As more cancer cells develop, they can form into a tumor and spread to other areas of the body. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer.
Four Main Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)
Cancer is found in the lung, but it is mostly internal and has not spread outside the lung.
Cancer is detected in the lung and nearby lymph nodes.
Cancer is in the lung and lymph nodes in the center of the chest.
Cancer has found its way into the lymph nodes, but only on the same side of the chest where cancer initially started developing.
Cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest or to lymph nodes over the collarbone.
Cancer has spread into both lungs, the area around the lungs, or to other distant organs.
Stages of Small-Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)
Compared to NSCLC, the small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) has only two main stages.
In the limited stage, cancer is discovered in only one lung or nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest.
The extensive stage signifies that cancer has already spread:
Throughout one lung
To the opposite lung
To lymph nodes on the opposite side
To fluid around the lung
To bone marrow
To distant organs
In the period of diagnosis, 2 out of 3 lung cancer patients with SCLC are already in the extensive stage. Staging of cancer is one of the most repeatedly prognostic factors with the classification based on the size of the tumor.
Survival Rate of Lung Cancer
The lung cancer five-year survival rate (17.7 percent) is lower than many other leading cancer sites, such as the colon (64.4 percent), breast (89.7 percent) and prostate (98.9 percent).
The five-year lung cancer survival rate is 55 percent for cases detected when the disease is still localized (within the lungs). However, only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage. For distant tumors (spread to other organs) the five-year survival rate is only 4 percent.
More than half of people diagnosed with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed.
Lung Cancer Survival Rate for Smokers
Smoking tobacco, such as cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, is the top risk factor for lung cancer. According to studies, about 90 percent of all lung cancer-related deaths are caused by smoking. Tobacco and tobacco smoke contains 7,000 chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic. Inhaling the chemicals in a cigarette instantly triggers a change in lung tissue. Initially, your body can repair the damage. Its ability to do so decreases as exposure continues. The more frequently you smoke and the longer you smoke, the higher your chances of developing lung cancer.
Smoking is the most significant risk factor, causing 9 out of 10 lung cancers.
Smokers aren’t the only ones who are affected. Second-hand smoke or breathing in other people’s smoke increases the risk of lung cancer. In the US second-hand smoke is responsible for approximately 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year.
Tobacco products contain over 7,000 chemicals 70 of which are linked to causing cancer.
When you inhale tobacco smoke, this mixture of chemicals is delivered directly to your lungs, where it immediately starts causing damage. The lungs can usually repair damage at first, but the continued assault on lung tissue becomes harder to manage. That’s when damaged cells can mutate and grow out of control.
The chemicals you inhale also enter your bloodstream and are carried throughout your body, increasing the risk of other types of cancer.
While quitting smoking can lower your risk of developing lung cancer considerably, former smokers are still at risk of developing lung cancer. Within 10 years of quitting, the risk of death and life expectancy from lung cancer drops by half.
The Risk Factors for Lung Cancer
Instead of dwelling on the lung cancer death rate or continuously wondering about what is the survival rate for lung cancer or the small cell lung cancer survival rate, people should do everything possible to prevent the disease.
This is especially true for people who are already at an increased risk for lung cancer.
People who fall into this category include:
- People who smoke cigarettes
- People who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke
- People with a personal or family history of lung cancer
- People who have undergone radiation therapy, especially to the chest
- People who eat an abundance of smoked and/or processed meats
- People who have been exposed to asbestos
These are just some of the risk factors for lung cancer. The good news, however, is that you can easily reduce your risk as it relates to some of these categories.
If, for example, you smoke, you can make an effort to quit smoking. Likewise, you can make healthy changes to your diet and your environment to reduce your risk of lung cancer.
Also, if you know you have an increased risk of lung cancer for any reason, you should regularly see a doctor who knows your history in order to be tested for this disease on a regular basis.
The sooner treatment is sought in cases of lung cancer, the more likely it is that the disease can be successfully treated. For this reason, regular screenings, especially for those at an increased risk of lung cancer, are extremely important.
What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Survival Rates
As mentioned above, it’s best not to focus on survival rates for lung cancer. That is because the chances of survival can vary so widely based on the type of lung cancer when it is caught, the treatments applied, and more.
What you should focus on, however, is the good news. That includes the fact that over 430,000 individuals who were at one time diagnosed with lung cancer are still alive and well.
For this reason, if you are ever diagnosed with lung cancer, do not simply assume that it is a death sentence. Instead, talk with your doctor about different treatment options and, from there, work out the best possible plan to help you live a long and healthy life in spite of the diagnosis.
How to Treat Lung Cancer
If you are diagnosed with lung cancer at some point in your life, the good news is that you have many options for treatment. A doctor who is experienced with lung cancer treatment is your best source for learning about which treatments options are likely to work best for you and your situation.
In many cases, surgery can be one of the best and most effective tools for ridding the body of lung cancer, especially in cases where the cancer is clearly confined and caught early.
Some surgical options include wedge resectioning, which removes the affected portion of the lung; lobectomies to remove one lung lobe, or even pneumonectomies, which would remove an entire lung.
When surgery is not an option, your doctor may recommend radiation therapy, which is effective at killing cancer cells in the body. In some cases, this treatment may be combined with surgery, or it may be performed on its own, depending on the specifics of your case.
Chemotherapy is another option sometimes used for lung cancer patients. Like radiation, it also works to kill cancer cells. Other options also exist, such as drug therapy and immunotherapy, which is used to boost the immune system and help it to fight cancer.
The only way to know what your best treatment option is is to work with a qualified health professional.
The bottom line is that you should do everything within your power to guard against lung cancer. But, if you are diagnosed with the condition, do your research and find a doctor and a treatment plan that will work for you. It could just save your life.