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What is Stage 4 Lung Cancer Life Expectancy?

Prognosis after Lung Cancer Has Spread


Updated August 14, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Question: What is Stage 4 Lung Cancer Life Expectancy?


Perhaps the most common question I am asked is “what is stage 4 lung cancer life expectancy?” Not unexpected, since 40% of people have already progressed to stage 4 lung cancer 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 4 lung cancer life expectancy can vary considerably among different people. Some of these variables include:
  • Your particular lung cancer type and location – Stage 4 lung cancer encompasses several lung cancer types, and includes cancers that have spread to only one distant region or those that have spread extensively.
  • 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 4 lung cancer life expectancy.
  • Complications of lung cancer – Complications such as blood clots can lower stage 4 lung cancer life expectancy.


In addition to variations between different people, it is important to keep in mind that statistics are frequently based on people treated a few years back. For example, the most recent statistics we have for lung cancer from 2014 are based on people diagnosed with lung cancer between 2003 and 2009 and followed until 2010.  Since that time a few new treatments have become available for people with advanced lung cancer.  newer treatments were unavailable.  That said, the median stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer life expectancy (the time at which 50% of patients are alive and 50% have passed away) is only around 8 months. The 5-year survival rate, that is the percent of people who are expected to be alive 5 years after a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer is sadly only 1%.

One last thing that it is very important to keep in mind. While stage 4 lung cancer is not usually 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 4 lung cancer life expectancy will improve in the future.

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 IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. 08/06/14. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/non-small-cell-lung/HealthProfessional/page12.


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