How long will someone with lung cancer live?

Updated April 17, 2017

Lung cancer kills almost 160,000 people in the United States. It may destroy the lungs' ability to deliver oxygen to the blood, or cancer cells may travel to other vital organs. Cancer survival is dependent on many factors, from the patients' underlying health conditions to how soon it is detected. Thankfully, it is preventable in that smoking, a big risk factor for cancer, is a habit that can be stopped.

Lung Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2009 more than 219,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed, and almost 160,000 people will die from it in the United States. Primary lung cancer occurs when cells in the lungs begin to multiply rapidly and without control. Secondary lung cancer occurs when cancer cells from other parts of the body migrate and continue multiplying in the lungs.

Death from Lung Cancer

Death from lung cancer occurs when the lungs are no longer able to take in oxygen and deliver it to the blood vessels because of physical damage from cancer. A person with lung cancer may also die when the cancer cells from the lung travel to other vital organs, impairing their function. For example, lung cancer may travel to the liver and cause liver cancer, also a life-threatening condition.

Cancer Survival

Cancer survival is measured by five-year survival rates. This measures the percentage of cancer patients who are alive five years after their diagnosis. According to the National Cancer Institute, 15.6 per cent of people with lung cancer survive five years with the disease. Survival varies by the stage at which the cancer is identified. If it is localised (early stage), then survival to five years reaches 52.6 per cent of cases. If the cancer has already spread to other sites, five-year survival is 8.5 per cent.

Surviving Lung Cancer

Surviving lung cancer depends on many factors, such as your overall health status, the kind and quality of medical care you receive and what steps you take to stay healthy during the course of the disease. If you had no underlying medical conditions, you may resist the disease and treatment better than someone who was sick with another condition. If you smoke, quitting smoking will help you survive the lung cancer.


The best way to survive lung cancer is to avoid it altogether. Smoking is a big risk factor for lung cancer because of the known carcinogens in tobacco products. Environmental conditions, such as exposure to asbestos, are also risk factors for lung cancer. Finally, genetic factors that may be unavoidable can also come into play, so those with a family history of lung cancer should consult their providers for routine cancer screening.

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About the Author

Rene Najera has been writing about health-related issues for over five years through different media. He holds a Master of Public Health degree from the George Washington University and conducts infectious disease surveillance at a state health department. He has also been a lab professional for over 14 years.