How Long Do You Have to Live after Being Diagnosed with Lung Cancer?

Ask a Doctor

I just went to a specialist because an X-ray for a broken rib showed what my general practitioner called a “shadow” on my left lung. The oncologist confirmed I have what looks like a cancerous tumor in my lung, but they have to do a biopsy this week to make sure. I’m terrified and my head is spinning. I wish I knew more about lung cancer, especially my prognosis. What is the life expectancy for someone with lung cancer?

Doctor’s Response

The amount of time you have to live after being diagnosed with lung cancer depends on the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis, as well as a person’s age, their overall health, and whether they have other medical conditions. In general, once the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body the survival rate is much lower. Unfortunately, lung cancer often is not detected until it has spread.

Life expectancy for cancers is often expressed as a 5-year survival rate (the percent of patients who will be alive 5 years after diagnosis) but people can live much longer. Overall the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is 18.6%. The lung cancer 5-year survival rate is 56% when the cancer is detected when the disease is still localized in the lungs. Once the lung cancer has spread, the 5-year survival rate drops to just 5%. More than half of lung cancer patients will die within one year of diagnosis.

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American Lung Association. Lung Cancer Fact Sheet. 14 December 2018. 2 January 2019 .