Lung cancer survival rates

Your long-term outcome (prognosis) depends on the type and stage of your lung cancer. The 5-year survival rate means the percentage of people who are still alive 5 years or longer after their cancer was discovered. It is important to remember that these are only averages. Everyone's case is different, and these numbers do not necessarily show what will happen to you. The overall 5-year survival rate of 16% is low because lung cancer is often not detected until it has reached an advanced stage.1

Non–small cell cancer survival rates

Non–small cell lung cancer generally grows and spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer. The survival rates decrease as the stage of cancer involves lymph nodes or other body organs. In general, survival rates are as shown in the table below:2

Non-small cell lung cancer treatment and survival rates
Stage Treatment Survival rate


Surgery followed by chemotherapy

5-year: 60%–70%


Surgery followed by chemotherapy and perhaps radiation

5-year: 40%–50%

IIIA (resectable)

Surgery followed by radiation, and may have chemotherapy before or after surgery

5-year: 15%–30%

IIIA (unresectable) or IIIB

Chemotherapy with radiation at the same time, or chemotherapy followed by radiation

5-year: 10%–20%

IIIB (pleural effusion) or IV

Chemotherapy with two medicines for 3 or 4 treatment cycles

1–year: 30%–35%

2-year: 10%–15%


Surgery for lung tumor and single brain tumor

5-year: 10%–15%

Recurrent non–small cell lung cancer survival rates

Your prognosis with non–small cell lung cancer that comes back (recurrent cancer) depends on the stage of your lung cancer when it was first diagnosed, as well as the stage of your cancer when it recurs in the lungs. Treatment for recurrent cancer is based on the stage of the cancer at the time it comes back.

Small cell cancer survival rates

Small cell lung cancer is less common than non–small cell cancer but grows very rapidly in most cases and is more likely to spread to other organs. Small cell lung cancer is staged as limited or extensive. Limited small cell cancer is found only in one lung and in nearby lymph nodes. Extensive small cell cancer has spread (metastasized) outside of the lung to other tissues in the chest or to other parts of the body. Only about one-third of people with small cell cancer have limited disease at the time they are diagnosed, while two-thirds have extensive disease.3 In general, survival rates are as shown:2

Small cell lung cancer treatment and survival rates
Stage Treatment Survival rate


Chemotherapy with radiation at the same time

5-year: 15%–25%



5-year: Up to 5%

Recurrent small cell lung cancer survival rates

People whose lung cancer returns after it is treated have a poor prognosis, with most people living only 2 to 3 months after they are diagnosed with recurrent disease.


  1. American Cancer Society (2007). What are the key statistics for lung cancer? Detailed Guide: Lung Cancer—Non–Small Cell. Available online:
  2. Spira A, Ettinger DS (2004). Multidisciplinary management of lung cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 350(4): 379–392.
  3. Ettinger DS (2008). Lung cancer and other pulmonary neoplasms. In L Goldman, D Ausiello, eds., Cecil Medicine, 23rd ed., pp. 1456–1465. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.

Last Updated: June 4, 2008

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