Prognosis and Life Expectancy With Stage 3 Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Learning you have lung cancer can be devastating. Unfortunately, most people with lung cancer are diagnosed when it is at stage 3, after it has spread (metastasized) beyond the lungs. It is then that the symptoms become more noticeable. Life expectancy for lung cancer does depend on how aggressive the cancer is and how well you respond to treatment though. And it’s important to remember the numbers for stage 3 non-small cell cancer life expectancy are just that, numbers – and everyone’s situation is unique.

Stage 3A Versus 3B Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

Stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer is subdivided into 3A and 3B. Stage 3A refers to cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes in the chest, but only on the same side as the affected lung. Stage 3B refers to cancer that has spread to the neck or lymph nodes on the other side of the chest, or to other organs. Although stage 3A cancer has spread, it has a better prognosis (outcome) than 3B because it has not spread as far.

Staying Strong With Lung Cancer

Life expectancy with cancer is broken down into overall survival after a set number of years. A large study of over 81,000 patients with lung cancer found 19% to 24% of patients with stage 3A and 7% to 9% of patients with stage 3B were alive five years after they were diagnosed. And according to the American Lung Association, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer overall is 55% if it is diagnosed when it is still confined to the lungs. However, once it has reached stage 3 and has begun to spread, the five-year survival rate ranges between 4% and 16%, depending on how much it has spread.

Factors That Affect Lung Cancer Life Expectancy

How successful treatment is for stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer is the primary factor in your prognosis, but there are other issues that can have an impact on your outcome aside from the cancer stage:

  • Location and number of metastases. If the cancer cells have spread to the brain or liver, the outlook is not as good as if the cells have spread to the bones, for example.

  • Body weight. People who have lost more than 5% of their body weight before they start cancer treatment tend to do less well than people who did not lose so much weight.

  • Sex. Women tend to respond better to treatment than men.

  • Pre-existing lung disease. If you already have conditions related to the lungs, such as pneumonia, pleural effusion, or a collapsed lung, you may have a harder time fighting lung cancer.

  • Daily activity. People who are able to maintain as close to normal levels of daily activities tend to have a better prognosis than people who have difficulty.

Researchers have also found that lung cancer cells have molecular markers, specific DNA sequences, that may predict how well they respond to cancer treatment and your prognosis. These molecular markers may also indicate which treatments are best for your specific case. Targeted therapies are medications that specifically target certain markers within cancer cells or gene mutations, preventing reproduction of the tumor cells, and stopping or slowing the cancer’s progress.

Stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer is a serious diagnosis, but there are treatments that may help extend your life and provide a good quality of life at the same time. If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, speak with your doctor about your life expectancy and what types of treatments are available to you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 31
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