Survival rates tell you what portion of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. These numbers can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding about how likely it is that your treatment will be successful. Some people will want to know the survival rates for their cancer type and stage, and some people won’t. If you don’t want to know, you don’t have to.
What is a 5-year survival rate?
Statistics on the outlook for a certain type and stage of cancer are often given as 5-year survival rates, but many people live longer – often much longer – than 5 years. The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with cancer. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that an estimated 50 out of 100 people who have that cancer are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. Keep in mind, however, that many of these people live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis.
Relative survival rates are a more accurate way to estimate the effect of cancer on survival. These rates compare people with cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific type and stage of cancer is 50%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 50% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.
But remember, survival rates are estimates – your outlook can vary based on a number of factors specific to you.
Survival rates don’t tell the whole story
Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. There are a number of limitations to keep in mind:
- The numbers below are among the most current available. But to get 5-year survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least 5 years ago. As treatments are improving over time, people who are now being diagnosed with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) might have a better outlook than these statistics show.
- These statistics are based on the stage of the cancer when it was first diagnosed. They do not apply to cancers that later come back or spread, for example.
- The outlook for people with SCLC varies by the stage (extent) of the cancer – in general, the survival rates are higher for people with earlier stage cancers. But other factors can affect a person’s outlook, such as a person’s age and overall health, and how well the cancer responds to treatment. The outlook for each person is specific to his or her circumstances.
Your doctor can tell you how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your particular situation.
Survival rates for small cell lung cancer, by stage
The numbers below are relative survival rates calculated from the National Cancer Institute’s SEER database, based on people who were diagnosed with SCLC between 1988 and 2001.
These survival rates are based on the TNM staging system in use at the time, which has since been modified slightly for the latest version. Because of this, the survival numbers may be slightly different for the latest staging system.
- The 5-year relative survival rate for people with stage I SCLC is about 31%.
- For stage II SCLC, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 19%.
- The 5-year relative survival rate for stage III SCLC is about 8%.
- SCLC that has spread to other parts of the body is often hard to treat. Stage IV SCLC has a relative 5-year survival rate of about 2%. Still, there are often treatment options available for people with this stage of cancer.
Remember, these survival rates are only estimates – they can’t predict what will happen to any individual person. We understand that these statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk to your doctor to better understand your situation.
Last Revised: 02/26/2016