Understanding Lung Cancer Treatments, Survival Rates, and Expectations


BioMark Diagnostics - Understanding Lung Cancer Treatments, Survival Rates, and Expectations

November is the Lung Cancer Awareness Month, so what better time to reflect on cancer related issues and treatments!

Unfortunately, despite scientific advancements, lung cancer continues to be the overall leader in cancer deaths worldwide. Additionally, the “5-year survival rate” numbers remain extremely low since most cases are diagnosed at late stage.

The 2020 estimated stats for incidence and numbers of deaths for lung and bronchial cancers globally topped figures of more than 2.2 million new cancer cases and 1.8 million deaths. In just the U.S. alone for 2020, the estimation of new cases exceeds 228,000 while deaths from the disease top 135,0001.

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Types of Lung Cancer – Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) and Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) is classified into histologic types based on the appearance of cells under a microscope and include adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma. Over the years, most scientific efforts have focused on NSCLC because it accounts for roughly 85% of all cases. The majority of these, being almost 55%, are diagnosed with advanced disease where the cancer has spread beyond the lungs2.

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) accounts for approximately 15% of all reported cases of lung cancer; Even though it is far less common SCLC is, by far, the more aggressive of the cancers. SCLC carries a worse prognosis, metastasizes rapidly, and sometimes results in death in a matter of a few weeks. This cancer is also more likely than other types of lung cancer to come back after treatment. This type of cancer has shown little response to therapy since they are detected late.

Survival Rates

The poor survival rates are in part the result of the fact that lung cancer is often diagnosed at advanced stage for effective treatment or management. In addition, there are distinct differences in survival based on the histologic type of lung cancer. For NSCLC for all stage 5-year survival rate is 23% vs 6% for SCLC3.

Treatments – Your lung cancer treatment options are determined by your lung cancer type, lung cancer stage, age, and lung cancer treatment goals. Once your doctors have determined your lung cancer profile, they will present you with one or a combination of the following options4:

  • Surgery – Lung cancer surgery is an option for some patients depending on the type, location and stage of their lung cancer and other medical conditions. Attempts to cure lung cancer with the surgery involve removing the tumor along with some surrounding lung tissue and often lymph nodes in the region of the tumor. Removing the tumor with lung cancer surgery is considered the best option when the cancer is localized and unlikely to have spread. This includes early-stage non-small cell lung cancers. Up to 80% of non-small cell lung cancer cases can be cured by surgery, depending upon the size of the tumor and if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the organ or the body5.

    In small cell cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It is rarely treated with surgery because by the time it is diagnosed it has usually spread to other parts of the body, even if the tests do not prove it. Early lung cancer screening can detect small cell lung cancer before it spreads, when the disease is most treatable by methods like radiation therapy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy6
  • Radiation Therapy – Lung cancer radiation therapy uses powerful, high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. The radiation is aimed at the lung cancer tumor and kills the cancer cells only in that area of the lungs.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy for lung cancer is used at different points in treatment to achieve different goals such as shrinking or stabilizing the tumor, killing leftover cancer cells after surgery or relieving lung cancer symptoms.
  • Targeted Therapy – New lung cancer drugs called targeted therapies help reduce damage to healthy cells. They focus on cancer cells by interrupting their growth and how they function.
  • Targeted therapy is commonly talked about as a treatment for patients who have certain abnormalities in their tumors that can be found through biomarker testing. Biomarker testing looks for changes in the tumor’s DNA. These changes can be mutations, additions, deletions or rearrangements in the DNA. Some lung cancer treatments can “target” these changes directly. These lung cancer treatments often cause fewer side effects because they focus on targeting what is exactly wrong with the cancer cell, instead of killing normal, healthy cells too. These therapies attack specific targets on or in the tumor cells. Not every person is eligible for targeted therapies for lung cancer. Your doctor might order a special test of your tumor called molecular testing or biomarker testing. Targeted therapy drugs work in different ways to chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy – is a type of medicine that treats cancer using the body’s own immune system. Immunotherapy drugs for lung cancer help your body recognize the cancer as foreign and harmful so your body can fight it. Most progress in immunotherapy for lung cancer has been made in immune checkpoint inhibitors. Immune checkpoints are molecules on the immune cells that can start or stop an immune response. Immunotherapy drugs can prevent the immune system from getting tricked and helps stimulate a response against cancer cells.

Subtypes of cancer and treatment

Adenocarcinoma has a high cure rate with surgery alone when it is less than or equal to 3 cm in diameter and does not invade lymph nodes. While surgery is the standard treatment for Adenocarcinomas, targeted therapy has been developed utilizing drugs that are able to inhibit epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which are over-expressed in about 80% of Adenocarcinomas

Squamous cell carcinoma, on the other hand, has a much poorer prognosis even with surgery alone, radiotherapy has been utilized in combination with chemotherapy in order to treat this histologic type.

BioMark Diagnostics – Liquid Biopsy and Metabolomics

Early detection is essential to successful treatment and management. The more you know and the earlier you detect potential cancers, the better your chances of survival. Cancer kills and life expectancy varies dramatically depending on the stage of the cancer and how fast it is caught. At BioMark, we believe that early detection of cancer increases the chance of being cured.

BioMark Diagnostics specializes in early detection of hard to detect and treat cancers through its patented liquid biopsy assays. BioMark Diagnostics’ patented liquid biopsy and metabolomic analysis is a simple, and accurate early-stage lung cancer detection solution. Such test is done on a sample of blood to look for cancer biomarkers, or metabolites, from a tumor that are circulating in the blood. A liquid biopsy may be used to help find cancer at an early stage. It may also be used to help plan treatment or to find out how well treatment is working or if cancer has come back.


The science and understanding of cancer and cancer technologies is ever rapidly evolving. The information provided herein is our attempt to simplify and highlight current discoveries, developments, and understandings related to lung cancer. Please seek proper medical advice or counsel from your physician or health provider.

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