When can I call my lung cancer cured? There's a general feeling that if lung cancer is treated and remains undetectable after 5 years, you're home free. But that's not always the case.
At first, when I learned of a new study looking at lung cancer survival beyond 5 years, I hesitated to write. After all, for people with cancer I know the fear of recurrence never hides very deep in the mind. And too many of us know of someone with some form of cancer that had that cancer come back after 5 years.
But after reading headlines that talked about "frequent recurrence" I had to set the statistics straight. The good news in this study was that 87% of people who survived for 5 years without a recurrence of their lung cancer, made it another 5 cancer-free.
Researchers looked at 1358 individuals who were able to undergo successful surgery and lymph node dissection for their lung cancer. Out of these people they then looked at 819 who remained cancer free for 5-years, and followed them further to understand what factors affect whether a lung cancer will return or not.
- For people with N0 disease (no spread of cancer to lymph nodes), 89% remained cancer free
- 84% of people with N1 disease (spread of cancer to lymph nodes near the initial tumor) were cancer-free
- 65% of those with N2 disease (spread of cancer to lymph nodes further away from the cancer) were disease-free
The conclusion? 5 years may not be enough time to call lung cancer "cured."
But considering the overall low survival rate from lung cancer, it is encouraging to hear that the majority of people in this study who remained cancer-free for 5 years following successful lung cancer treatment, continued to be cancer-free for another 5.
Maeda, R. et al. Late Recurrence of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer More Than 5 Years After Complete Resection. Incidence and Clinical Implications in Patient Follow-up. CHEST. 2010. 138(1):145-150.