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Lung Cancer Survival Improving Over Last 20 Years


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by Lynn Eldridge MD

Sometimes it seems like we are getting nowhere fast when it comes to lung cancer survival rates. Despite worthy excitement surrounding genetic testing and targeted therapies, the overall 5-year survival rate has remained painfully low - within a percentage point or so from what it was at the time I was born. But that appears to be changing, at least at Moffitt Cancer Center where this study was completed. This study, in fact, has me wanting to blow on those New Year's Eve noisemakers that have yet to be packed away.

Researchers began this study by looking at lung cancer survival rates among nearly 5,000 people treated at Moffitt Cancer Center over 5 time periods spanning 22 years; from 1986 to 2008.

During this time period

Median survival (that is the time period at which 50% of people are still alive and 50% have died from lung cancer) increased from slightly over 1 year to a little over 2 years

Overall survival increased from roughly 15% to 31%

For people with stage 1 disease 5-year survival improved from 32% to 54%, the improvement for those with stage 2 disease rose from 13% to 36%, for stage 3 the increase was from 10% to 22%, and for stage 4 disease 5-year survival grew from only 3.4% to 9.6%

A significant improvement in survival was noted for:

People who were age 70 and older


People who had never smoked or who had quit smoking

Those with stage 1 lung cancer

This represents data from only one cancer center, but the results are exciting as we are finally seeing the survival rate budge for lung cancer - a cancer that has resisted any significant change in survival for several decades.



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Cindy- thanks for posting this. While sometimes it seems good news and lung cancer don't go together, this study is such hopeful news! I knew that survival had improved, but this is the first time I've seen actual numbers in black and white. Now instead of telling newly diagnosed patients that the statistics are old and out of date, there will be more current and hopeful information to give them.

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