Life expectancy for people with metastatic lung cancer is low. The overall 5-year survival rate for small cell lung cancer is 3%, and 8% for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). 25-30% of people with metastatic NSCLC have a life expectancy of under 3 months.

Survival rates for metastatic lung cancer are estimates. Several factors, including age and overall health, can affect a person’s outlook.

Learn more about the survival rates for metastatic lung cancer here.

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Researchers base cancer survival rates on the type of cancer, the subtype of cancer, and the stage at diagnosis. When considering the 5-year survival rate for metastatic lung cancer, looking at the subtype of the cancer can also help determine the overall survival rate.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), lung cancer is the leading cause of death among people with cancer, accounting for 25% of all cancer fatalities. They state that the overall 5-year survival rate is now about 18.6%.

Though still low compared to other cancers, this rate represents an improvement. In a 2013 review, for example, researchers estimated that the survivability rate was about 16%, so this is a little over a 2% improvement.

Sex, age, and race differences

Lung cancer death rates are not equal across sexes and races. The ALA state that Black people die from lung cancer at a higher rate than other racial groups. The age-adjusted mortality rate for Black men is also higher than that for white men.

These disparities may be due to inequities in healthcare.

A person’s age at diagnosis may also influence survivability rates. According to the ACS, doctors diagnose the majority of cases in people who are age 65 years or older. The average age of diagnosis is 70 years.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer, representing about 80–85% of all cases.

There are several subtypes of NSCLC. These include:

  • large cell carcinoma
  • adenocarcinoma
  • squamous cell carcinoma

These subtypes are grouped together as NSCLC due to having similar outlooks, treatments, and survivability rates.

The 5-year relative survival rate for metastatic NSCLC is about 8%. If the cancer only spreads to nearby tissue, the rate improves to 37%. People with localized lung cancer, which has not spread at all, have a 64% survival rate.

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer accounts for 10–15% of all lung cancer cases. In 70% of cases, the cancer has already spread to other areas of the body by the time of diagnosis.

According to the ACS, the 5-year survival rate for metastasized small cell lung cancer is about 3%. The rate improves to 18% if it only has spread locally and to 29% if it has not spread at all.

Lung cancer that spreads to the bones

The location of metastasis may also affect a person’s survival rate.

For example, in one 2018 study, researchers looked at the survival rates for lung cancer that had spread to the bones. They found that the median survival time following diagnosis was about 148 days.

Survival rates are generalized markers that indicate the likelihood that a person will live after a set period of time. Often, doctors and other researchers look at the 5-year survival rate.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the relative survival rate is a percentage comparison of survival in those with the cancer compared to those who have never had it.

These rates may help a person better understand how well the treatment may work for them, but they cannot tell a person exactly how long they will live.

The National Cancer Institute further clarifies that survival rates vary on a person’s current diagnosis. The cancer may be a new diagnosis or a recurrence.

In other words, if a person receives a diagnosis of stage 1 lung cancer first and then metastatic lung cancer later, their survival rate relates to their new diagnosis.

The ACS points out that 5-year survival rates are only estimates. They strongly encourage a person to talk with a doctor about their own situation.

Several factors can influence a person’s survival likelihood, including:

  • their age
  • their overall health
  • genetic changes in the cancer cells
  • subtype of NSCLC
  • how effective treatment is

Survival rates are also constantly changing. Newer treatments are often more effective, and better treatment options may improve a person’s chance of survival.

Lung cancer has a relatively low 5-year survival rate compared with other cancers, and it is the leading cause of death from cancer. Age, sex, and health inequities related to race can affect the numbers.

It is important to remember that the survival rate does not mean a person will live or die in 5 years. A person should talk with a doctor about their outlook. They can explain the factors affecting them and recommend treatments to prolong survival.