How Long Does It Take to Die From Lung Cancer Without Treatment?

Ask a Doctor

I’m 76 years, old and I was just diagnosed with lung cancer. Obviously I’m upset by this news, but I’m also scared of having my final months ruined by side effects of chemotherapy. I’ve already gotten to see my grandchildren born and traveled extensively after retirement. I’m thinking of just going without treatment so I can enjoy the last of my time with my family. What if I just don’t get it treated? What is the prognosis for lung cancer without treatment?

Doctor’s Response

More than half of lung cancer patients will die within one year of diagnosis even with treatment. Without treatment, patients may die even sooner. For any hope of survival, medical or surgical treatment is necessary.

Life expectancy 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. Once the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body the survival rate is much lower. Lung cancer is often not detected until it has spread.

Life expectancy for cancers is typically expressed as a 5-year survival rate (the percent of patients who will be alive 5 years after diagnosis). Overall, the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is lower than other cancers, at 18.6%. The lung cancer 5-year survival rate is 56% when the cancer is detected while the disease is still localized in the lungs. Once the lung cancer has spread, the 5-year survival rate drops to just 5%.

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