A common question, and a very understandable one from patients with any cancer is what is the prognosis? The prognosis is the medical forecast of the outcome of the disease if left untreated or treated. Usually, the patient is focused on survivability and thereafter, on the quality of life they will have and what undergoing treatment actually will entail.
Cancer is a frightening disease because of its prevalence and because it still holds a reputation for being a killer. What needs to be borne in mind is that not every case is the same and individual case prognosis varies widely depending on a wide number of factors including the type of cancer a patient has contracted, how healthy they are generally and the ability to deliver treatment for the condition.
The prognosis for a patient with lung cancer depends on the type of cancer they have contracted.
Those patients with a diagnosis of SCLC (small cell lung cancer) have a very short life expectancy because it is extremely aggressive and does not lend itself to medical treatment. If left untreated, SCLC patients typically have 2 to 4 months to live after diagnosis. SCLC does lend itself to radiation therapy and chemotherapy, and this can dramatically affect the prognosis and life expectancy can be increased four or five time, however it is a sad fact that SCLC patients are unlikely to survive beyond a year after diagnosis (less than 10% survive beyond 5 years from diagnosis).
Non-SCLC (NSCLC) has a poor record of survivability except where the condition has been diagnosed early and the tumor is small enough to be surgically removed. Where the surgical resection (resection is the medical term for removal of the tumor) has taken place and the lung cancer is diagnosed as Stage 1, then survival rates are over 75% at 5 years post-diagnosis. Radiation therapy can be used to completely cure some NSCLC patients and in others leads to effective control of the symptoms for the majority of patients.
Where lung cancer has reached an advance stage, a course of chemotherapy is the ultimate recourse for a cure, though it is also used as radiation therapy to alleviate the symptoms of the condition.
The honest answer to the survivability question is that survival rates are poor compared to other forms of cancer. Overall, survival rates for patients with lung cancer are 16% after 5 years from initial diagnosis, which compares unfavorably with prostrate cancer (99%), breast cancer (89%) and colonic cancer (65%).
The prevalence of lung cancer as the number one cancer killer combined with the extremely poor survival rates mandates an increase in research and awareness of the condition. Many cancers have historically experienced equally poor survival rates until techniques and methodologies for treatment were discovered by increased research. While lung cancer may be the number one cause of cancer deaths in the world and at home, it is to be expected that as the rates of smoking decline then this disease will also decline with it. A crucial component of treating any medical condition is to focus upon prevention rather than cure, and it is clearly the case that if you smoke you should stop, and even better, if you are contemplating a cigarette, it is better to decline using tobacco altogether.