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What Is Stage 3 Lung Cancer Life Expectancy?


Updated August 14, 2014

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Question: What Is Stage 3 Lung Cancer Life Expectancy?


After someone is diagnosed with stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer I am often asked is “what is stage 3 lung cancer life expectancy?” Not unexpected, since 30% of people have already progressed to stage 3 lung cancer (and 40% to stage 4) at the time they are diagnosed. Before answering the question though, it is important to talk a little about how the answer – the statistical answer – is derived.


Stage 3 lung cancer life expectancy can vary considerably among different people. Some of these variables include:
  • Your particular lung cancer type – Stage 3 lung cancer encompasses several lung cancer types
  • The location of your cancer - Stage 3 lung cancer is broken down into stage 3A lung cancer and stage 3B lung cancer, depending upon which tissues near the lungs that the cancer has spread to
  • Your age – Younger people tend to live longer than older people with lung cancer
  • Your sex – The life expectancy for woman with lung cancer is higher at each stage of lung cancer
  • Your general health at the time of diagnosis – Being healthy overall at the time of diagnosis is associated with a longer life expectancy, and a greater ability to withstand treatments that may extend survival
  • How you respond to treatment – Side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted therapies, and radiation therapy vary among different people, and may limit your ability to tolerate treatment
  • Other health conditions you may have – Health conditions such as emphysema may lower stage 3 lung cancer life expectancy
  • Complications of lung cancer – Complications such as blood clots can lower lung cancer life expectancy


In addition to variations between different people, it is important to keep in mind that statistics are frequently a few years old. For example, the most recent statistics we have for lung cancer are from people who were diagnosed between 2003 and 2009 and followed through 2010. With advances in treatment, it's possible that survival rates could be higher at the present time.

That said, the median life expectancy for stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer (the time at which 50% of patients are alive and 50% have passed away) is around 15 months for stage 3A and 13 months for stage 3B. The 5-year survival rate -- that is the percent of people who are expected to be alive 5 years after a diagnosis of stage 3 lung cancer -- is sadly only 14% for stage 3A and around 5% for stage 3B.

One last thing that it is very important to keep in mind. While only some of stage 3 lung cancer is curable, it is treatable. These treatments may not only improve survival, but help with the symptoms of lung cancer as well. Several treatments are currently being evaluated in clinical trials, and offer hope that stage 3 lung cancer life expectancy will improve in the future. The National Cancer Institute states that all individuals with stage 3 lung cancer should be considered candidates for clinical trials.

Further Reading:


American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2014. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2014. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/webcontent/acspc-042151.pdf

American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer (Non-Small Cell.) Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Survival Rates by Stage. 04/30/2014. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-survival-rates

National Cancer Institute. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (PDQ). Stage IIIA Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. 02/10/12. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/non-small-cell-lung/HealthProfessional/page10

National Cancer Institute. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (PDQ). Stage IIIB Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. 02/10/12. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/non-small-cell-lung/HealthProfessional/page11


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