Receiving the prognosis after a diagnosis of lung cancer can be a frightening event for an individual and their family. The word prognosis refers to the chance for a cure or a prolonged survival from the disease. This prognosis is dependent upon several factors, not the least of which is the location and signs of the cancer, whether it is malignant or benign, the type of symptoms that are currently present, the cell differentiation and the overall health of the individual.
Small cell lung cancer has the most aggressive growth of all lung cancers with a median survival time of only two to four months after diagnosis, if it is left untreated. This means that by two to four months after diagnosis when the cancer is left untreated half of all the patients have already died. However, more positively, small cell lung cancer is also the type that is more responsive to radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
When chemotherapy is used alone or in combination with other methods of treatment, survival time for patients with small cell lung cancer can be prolonged three to four times. Unfortunately, because of the aggressive nature of the disease, only five to 10% of patients with small cell lung cancer will be alive five years after diagnosis and most of those have limited stage small cell lung cancer.
In non-small cell lung cancer the results of standard treatment are generally not good except if the cancer has been localized and can be surgically removed. Stage one cancers that can be completely removed have a five-year survival rate approaching 75%. Researchers have found that radiation therapy can produce a cure in a small number of patients with non-small cell lung cancer but is generally used to relieve symptoms in an advanced stage disease. Chemotherapy is often used to offer modest improvement in survival time as well as relief of some symptoms.
Prognosis of lung cancer diagnosis will also depend upon whether or not the individual is willing to give up or get rid of the risk factors which cause the disease in the first place. Individuals who are exposed to tobacco smoke, high levels of air pollution or occupational chemical hazards are more likely to develop lung cancer, and unless those risk factors are eliminated from the life of the individual, they are also more likely to die sooner from their lung cancer.
Lung cancer survival holds a poor prognosis. This may be because early diagnosis is next to impossible secondary to symptoms which don’t occur until late in the disease. If early stage lung cancer can be found survival rates shoot up dramatically. These statistics point to the necessity for better screening and diagnosis of early stage lung cancer.