Understanding the Prognosis of Squamous Cell Lung Cancer

squamous cell lung carcinoma

Treatment Choices for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer,

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Before answering the question “what is the prognosis of squamous cell lung cancer?” it is important to talk about what the numbers describing survival rate really mean. First of all, everyone is different. Statistics tell us what the “average” course or survival is, but they don’t tell us anything about specific individuals. Many factors can affect the prognosis of squamous cell lung cancer.It is also helpful to keep in mind that statistics are based on information that is several years old. As new treatments become available, these numbers may not accurately reflect what your prognosis is today. For example, the 5-year survival rate for a lung cancer reported in 2017 is based on people who were diagnosed in 2012 and earlier. At the same time, there were more new treatments approved for the treatment of lung cancer between 2011 and 2016, than in the 40 year period prior to 2011. What this means is that the current reported survival rates fail to take into account how someone will be expected to do on any of these new treatments.There is a lot of hope for those diagnosed with lung cancer today, but unfortunately, the statistics you will read may not be helpful in understanding this hope.

Factors That Can Affect Squamous Cell Lung Cancer Prognosis

Some of the factors that can affect life expectancy with squamous cell carcinomainclude:

  • The stage of your cancer – Early-stage squamous cell carcinoma (for example, stage 1 or stage 2) has a better prognosis than later stage cancers (such as stage 3 or stage 4). Yet, keep in mind that many of the newer cancer treatments discussed above are for those who have advanced stages of lung cancer.
  • Your age – Young adults with lung cancer tend to live longer than older people with lung cancer. While statistically, older people do not do as well as younger people with the disease, it is a myth that lung cancer cannot be treated in older adults. In fact, studies have found that older adults with lung cancer often tolerate the same treatments recommended for younger people with the disease.
  • Your sex – The life expectancy for women with lung cancer is higher at each stage of the disease.
  • 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 surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy vary among different people and may limit your ability to tolerate treatment.
  • Other health conditions you may have – Other health conditions, such as emphysema or heart disease may lower lung cancer life expectancy. These other conditions can also interfere with some of the possible treatments for lung cancer. For example, those with severe COPD may not be able to tolerate losing a lobe of their lungs from lung cancer surgery.
  • Complications of lung cancer – Complications of lung cancer such as blood clots and pleural effusions, can lower lung cancer life expectancy. It’s noteworthy that some of these complications, such as depression, are very treatable, and in order to improve life expectancy, it’s important to focus not only on treating the lung cancer but the medical conditions which commonly occur alongside lung cancer.
  • Have a support system – Studies tell us that those who have a strong social support system tend to have better outcomes than those who do not. For this reason, looking into lung cancer support groups and support communities may affect your prognosis. Yet, the benefits of these communities may go beyond support alone. There are now many people who have learned of new treatments and clinical trials available not from their community oncologist, but from learning about these treatments as part of an active lung cancer community.
  • Being your own advocate – We are learning that being your own advocate in your cancer care may not only improve your quality of life but make a difference in outcomes as well.


In addition to variations between different people, the prognosis can change with time as better treatments become available as noted earlier, and those better treatments are quickly becoming available. Squamous cell carcinoma can spread to different organs like bones, adrenal glands, the liver, small intestine, or brain, and the prognosis for the advanced stage of this type of lung cancer is not as good. That said, there are long-term survivors of even stage 4 squamous cell lung cancer, and newer treatments, such as targeted therapy drugs and immunotherapy, are beginning to allow at least some people to live with lung cancer as a chronic disease. Most of the statistics available look at all types of non-small cell lung cancer grouped together. Of these, the prognosis for squamous cell carcinoma is somewhat lower than that for adenocarcinoma but more optimistic than for large cell lung cancer.

The average 5-year survival rates for non-small cell lung cancer are:
  • Stage 1 – 49 percent for stage 1A and 45 percent for stage 1B
  • Stage 2 – 30 percent for stage 2A and 30 percent for stage 2B
  • Stage 3 – 14 percent for stage 3A and 5 percent for stage 3B
  • Stage 4 (Metastatic) – roughly 1 percent, although studies are suggesting this is increasing

Acording to the stage, some of the patients with non-metastatic squamous cell cancer can be cured. In general, metastatic squamous cell cancer is not curable but it is treatable. Chemotherapy, for example, may improve survival and also help with the symptoms of lung cancer. Several treatments are currently being evaluated in clinical trials, and offer hope that squamous cell carcinoma of the lungs prognosis will improve in the future. The National Cancer Institute recommends that everyone with lung cancer should consider the possibility of clinical trials. Thankfully, several of the lung cancer organizations have worked together to create a free lung cancer clinical trial matching service that anyone with lung cancer is welcome to use.

Estimating Your Personal Prognosis

When looking at prognosis, it’s important to note that all squamous cell lung cancers are not the same. In fact, if there were 300 people with squamous cell lung carcinoma in a room, they would have 300 unique cancers. Your particular cancer may have molecular characteristics which either increase or decrease your prognosis that your oncologist will discuss with you. In addition, research is looking for other ways of estimating the prognosis of an individual squamous cell carcinoma based on findings such as circulating tumor cells found on a liquid biopsy and more.If you’ve recently been diagnosed, you’re probably frightened, and a little overwhelmed. We’ve learned that educating yourself about your cancer, and advocating for yourself as part of your healthcare team, can play a big role in your quality of life.Check out this information on squamous cell lung cancer, including some of the new treatments that are being used. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. Learn about the first steps to take when you are diagnosed with lung cancer—steps that can help empower you in your journey.In addition, check out these tips on what people can do themselves to improve lung cancer survival.

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