Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) refers to a broad category of lung cancers that start in the lungs. Several factors, including a person’s age, stage of cancer, race, sex, socioeconomic status, and overall health, can impact the person’s chances of survival.

A relative survival rate helps give an idea of how long a person with a particular condition will live after receiving a diagnosis compared with those without the condition.

For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, it means that a person with the condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

The following article reviews the survival rates for NSCLC and the factors that may affect the outcome.

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The American Cancer Society (ACS) provides estimated relative survival rates based on Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) staging.

SEER staging involves three stages:

  • Localized: The cancer has not spread to other areas of the body.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread to surrounding tissue and lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts and organs of the body.

The ACS calculates relative survival rates based on each stage of the cancer. It also provides a combined relative survival rate based on the average of all three stages.

The results are shown as a percentage.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates. A person should consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

Below, we present the estimated survival rates for different stages of NSCLC.

Localized

When NSCLC has not spread outside the lung, or lungs, that it developed in, healthcare professionals consider it to be localized.

A person who receives a diagnosis at this stage has a 63% chance of survival after 5 years.

Regional

Regional NSCLC means that the cancer has spread to surrounding tissue and lymph nodes.

Individuals who have received a diagnosis of regional NSCLC have a 35% chance of survival after 5 years.

Distant

Distant NSCLC has spread to other areas of the body, such as the brain or bones.

A person who has received a diagnosis at this stage has a 7% chance of survival after 5 years.

Combined

The ACS also provides a combined 5-year relative survival rate. This number reflects the average 5-year survival rate for all types of NSCLC.

The 5-year overall survival rate is 25%.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Sex differences may affect the survival rates of people with an NSCLC diagnosis.

The authors of a 2021 article report that, compared with males, females have an overall improved survival rate for lung cancer.

However, the researchers also note that the recent trends show an increase of cases involving females, which may impact survival rates in years to come.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), the death rate for lung cancer in 2019 was 45% higher among males. Moreover, the death rate was higher among males across all racial groups.

A 2018 meta-analysis compared the overall survival and progression-free survival of NSCLC based on sex. The authors observe that females have a lower risk of death than males and that the risk of death is 1.6 times higher in males.

This may be a result of how treatment options affect a person based on their sex. The researchers found that:

  • females benefit more than males from EGFR treatment, compared with chemotherapy
  • taking anti-PD1 inhibitors is more beneficial for males than for females
  • there was little difference between sexes after treatment with ALK inhibitors, compared with chemotherapy

The ALA states that the likelihood of having and dying from lung cancer is greater for Black males and females than it is for individuals of any other ethnic or racial group.

Race and socioeconomic factors can cause a disparity in treatment and survival rates among people living with any stage of NSCLC.

For instance, the researchers behind a 2014 study note that factors including race and economic disparities can affect a person’s outcome.

They found that Black people had a worse survival rate than white and Hispanic individuals. They also suggest that economic status has an impact on survival rates.

According to the ACS, the overall cancer death rates per 100,000 people for lung and bronchus cancer are as follows:

Non-Hispanic Black peopleNon-Hispanic white people
Males63.954.1
Females33.337.9

The table below outlines the 5-year relative survival rate for lung and bronchus cancer based on a person’s race and the stage of the condition:

Black peoplewhite people
Localized5256
Regional2730
Distant55
Combined1619

Learn more about cancer in African American people here.

Relative survival rates do not guarantee any specific outcome. Several factors can influence a person’s overall outlook, such as their general health and the stage of the cancer.

Other contributing factors include access to adequate treatment and socioeconomic factors, such as insurance and treatment cost.

All cancers, including NSCLC, can spread outside of the tissue in which they originated. Health experts call this metastasis. Once the cancer has spread, it typically decreases the likelihood of a positive outcome for people.

A person should consult a doctor about the likelihood of their cancer spreading to other areas of the body.

Learn more about life expectancy and survival rates for metastatic lung cancer here.

If someone has lung cancer, they may find it beneficial to join an online support group. Examples include:

People who have received an NSCLC diagnosis may have some questions and fears surrounding the diagnosis. It may help them to write down the questions they want to ask a doctor.

Some questions that may help guide a conversation include:

  • What treatment options are available?
  • Given my health and age, what is my prognosis?
  • Where do we go from here?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Are there any local support groups you could recommend?
  • What will treatment look like, and what can I expect from it?

NSCLC refers to a wide range of lung cancers that start in the lungs. It has an overall relative 5-year survival rate of about 25%.

Several factors can influence a person’s individual chances of survival, including age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, and treatment options.

A person with an NSCLC diagnosis should contact a doctor to discuss their chance of survival and the most suitable and effective treatment for them.