Over the years I've had many people ask me what their lung cancer survival would be without treatment. A few have asked because they have chosen not to pursue treatment. But more were interested for another reason. They wanted to know the survival advantage, in terms of time, that treatment was giving them.
A new study set out to answer this question. It's hard to find enough people who have foregone treatment to get an accurate estimate, so they searched through electronic databases, contacted experts in lung cancer, and pored through bibliographies.
Lumped together by stage they found that people with untreated non-small cell lung cancer lived an average of 7.15 months.
Of course most people choose some form of treatment. Early stage lung cancers may be curable with treatment, and even though advanced lung cancers aren't curable, they are treatable. And it's important to keep in mind that this is statistics. Statistics are great for looking at trends, but say little about what an individual person can expect. So why did I share this information?
But I also wanted to send out a reminder to those who have loved ones who choose to forego cancer treatments (after making an informed decision based on the best material possible,) to respect those decisions. I recently told one of my children that truly loving someone means that we would accept them and love them even when they make choices we wouldn't make. It's easy to care for someone when they agree with us. But it's much harder when we need to put our own wishes and decision making aside and accept that of another.
Why would someone choose to skip treatment?
- Sometimes the survival "benefits" are small. For example a chemotherapy regimen may only extend life by a few weeks, and would come with negative side effects. Someone may choose to skip treatment to feel as healthy as possible with the time they have left.
- Due to religious beliefs. Some people's faith may forbid medical treatment.
- Skepticism about the benefits of treatment.
- Interest in pursuing a different approach, such as prayer or alternative medicine.
As a last note, some people forego treatment because of the stigma of lung cancer (feeling that they don't deserve treatment if they smoked) or because of a lack of insurance and resources. Nobody should be denied life saving or life extending treatment due to a lack of finances. There is help available, both from non-profit programs, and via your friends and loved ones.
Wao, H. et al. Survival of patients with non-small cell lung cancer without treatment: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic reviews. 2013. 2:10.