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Lung Cancer: Stages & Survival Rate

Instructor: Dominic Corsini
This lesson describes the stages and survival rates of non-small cell lung cancer. All cancers are unique and these figures should be treated as approximations. A summation of key points and brief quiz are included.

Lung Cancers

It has been said that nearly everyone knows another person who has been affected by cancer. Cancer is a disease caused by the uncontrolled division of cells in a part of the body. There are many types of cancer that can affect a person (skin, breast, pancreatic, etc.), but this lesson focuses specifically on lung cancer. To be clear, there are two primary types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Our attention will be on non-small cell lung cancer as it accounts for approximately 85% of all cases. We'll also look at some symptoms of lung cancer.

Stages and Survival Rates

Non-small cell lung cancer starts when a cell begins dividing uncontrollably. This single cell first divides into two cancerous cells, then four, then eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Once the mass of uncontrolled cells gets large enough it's referred to as a tumor. If the cancer is located in only the lung and not in any lymph nodes, then it's considered to be in stage 1. This stage has a 5-year observed survival rate of 45 - 49%. Survival rates are based on the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after being diagnosed. Patients who die of non-cancer related causes during their treatment are not included in the survival rate calculations.

Sadly, many people who have stage 1 lung cancer are unaware of it. The disease tends to begin quietly, showing no early symptoms. As the cancer progresses, individuals may begin to notice a cough that won't go away, they may have chest pain when breathing deeply, or they might experience shortness of breath. These symptoms will grow in severity as the cancer stages progress.

Non-small cell lung cancer then progresses to stage 2. During this stage the cancer is in both the lungs and nearby lymph nodes. Observed 5-year survival rate of this stage drop to 30 - 31%.

At this point, the observed 5-year survival rate drops considerably with the diagnosis of stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer. During this stage, cancer is found in the lung, the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest, and is described as a locally advanced disease. Stage 3 lung cancer can be subdivided into two types. If the cancer has spread only to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest where the cancer started, it is called stage 3A. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest, or above the collarbone, it is called stage 3B. Stage 3A has a 5-year survival rate of 14%, while stage 3B's observed 5-year survival rate is at 5%.

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