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Last Modified February 26, 2021
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How Long Can You Live with Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer?

Patients with asbestos-related lung cancer face a similar prognosis as other lung cancer patients.

In a 2009 Japanese study, the average prognosis for asbestos-related lung cancer was 16.2 months, while the average prognosis for non-asbestos related lung cancer was 17.2 months. Of the patients with asbestos-related lung cancer, 25% achieved a five-year survival rate with treatment. Exposure to asbestos was not found to substantially increase or reduce a lung cancer patient’s prognosis.

As with other asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, early diagnosis helps patients qualify for more effective treatment options that improve survival.

Asbestos-related diseases develop slowly and are often diagnosed in their later stages, preventing many patients from eligibility for surgery and other effective lung cancer treatment options.

Patients who have been heavily exposed to asbestos — especially those with a history of smoking cigarettes — should consider yearly lung cancer screenings to catch tumors before they become inoperable.

Lung cancer screening involves a low-dose CT scan, which can show tumors growing at early stages. Research published in 2017 shows workers with a history of asbestos exposure may also benefit from regular spirometry tests, which can identify workers with weakened lung function who may be at risk of developing lung cancer.

What Affects a Lung Cancer Prognosis?

The most common prognostic factors for asbestos-related lung cancer include:

  • The type and stage of the cancer
  • Patient’s age and overall health
  • Pulmonary function, including smoking history

However, your prognosis is not a fixed number. You may be able to improve your life expectancy through treatment, which mesothelioma and lung cancer patients share in common.

Tumor-removing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy all can play a role in someone living longer with asbestos-related cancer.

Some prognostic factors are positive, meaning they will tend to increase the length of your life, while others negatively impact your prognosis. Patients can have a combination of poor and positive prognostic factors.

Prognostic Factors: Positive vs. Poor
Positive Prognostic Factors Poor Prognostic Factors
Under age 65 Age 65 or older
Female Male
Nonsmoker Smoker
High hemoglobin levels Stage 3 or stage 4 cancer
Normal lactate dehydrogenase levels Cancerous spread to other organs
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Lung Cancer Stage Affects Survival Rates

The cancer’s stage is one of the primary factors when determining a patient’s prognosis.

Overall, lung cancer patients who are diagnosed at an early stage tend to have a better prognosis and longer survival rate.

Five-Year Survival Rates for Lung Cancer

  • Local spread, which represents stage 1 and 2, has a five-year survival rate of 61%.
  • Regional spread, which represents stage 3, has a five-year survival rate of 35%.
  • Distant spread, which represents stage 4, has a five-year survival rate of 6%. Source: American Cancer Society, January 2020

Survival Rates by Type of Lung Cancer

The two main types of lung cancer, small cell and non-small cell, are associated with different survival rates. Notably, small cell survival is significantly shorter than non-small cell.

Small cell lung cancer is a more aggressive type of lung cancer and it has a poorer prognosis:

  • Localized spread has a five-year survival rate of 27%
  • Regional spread has a five-year survival rate of 16%
  • Distant spread has a five-year survival rate of 3%

Even non-small cell has cell subtypes with different prognoses. For example, adenocarcinoma is a type of non-small cell, and it tends to have a slightly better prognosis than other forms.

A 2011 study reported that adenocarcinoma patients lived a median of 8.4 months while all other non-small cell lung cancer patients lived a median of 8.1 months. While the difference is small, researchers have found similar results in other studies and believe the lung cancer statistics are significant.

Survival rate small cell lung cancers bar graphs
Differences in median survival rate between extensive and limited-stage small cell lung cancers.

Asbestos Exposure and Lung Cancer Prognosis

Asbestos exposure is not a significant prognostic factor for lung cancer patients.

Patients with asbestos-related lung cancer have similar prognoses as patients with lung cancer caused by another carcinogen such as cigarette smoke.

While prognostic factors and survival statistics are identified through studies and scientific analysis, they can’t account for personal factors. Some patients outlive their prognosis without any significant explanation, while others live longer thanks to aggressive treatment or participation in clinical trials that gave them access to groundbreaking therapies such as immunotherapy.

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