Survival statistics for small cell lung cancer

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Survival statistics for small cell lung cancer are very general estimates and must be interpreted very carefully. Because these statistics are based on the experience of groups of people, they cannot be used to predict a particular person's chances of survival.

There are many different ways to measure and report cancer survival statistics. Your doctor can explain the statistics for small cell lung cancer and what they mean to you.

Net survival

Net survival represents the probability (chance) of surviving cancer in the absence of other causes of death. It is used to give an estimate of the percentage of people who will survive cancer.

In Canada, the 5-year net survival for lung cancer is 22%. This means that, on average, about 22% of people diagnosed with lung cancer will live for at least 5 years. This net survival includes both non–small cell and small cell lung cancer, there are no separate net survival statistics for each type.

Survival varies with each stage of lung cancer. Generally, the earlier lung cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome.

Survival for small cell lung cancer

Many statistics for small cell lung cancer are reported as median survival. Median means the middle value (midpoint). Median survival is the length of time after diagnosis or the start of treatment when half of the people with cancer are still alive. In other words, half of the people are expected to live to or beyond the median survival and the other half are not. For example, if 50% of people with a cancer are still alive 12 months after their diagnosis, then the median survival for that cancer is 12 months.

There are no specific Canadian statistics available for the different stages of small cell lung cancer. The following information comes from a variety of sources. It may include statistics from other countries that are likely to have similar outcomes as in Canada.

  • Limited stage small cell lung cancer has a median survival of 12 to 16 months, with treatment.
  • Extensive stage small cell lung cancer has a median survival of 7 to 11 months, with treatment.

Questions about survival

Talk to your doctor about your prognosis. A prognosis depends on many factors, including:

  • your health history
  • the type of lung cancer
  • the stage
  • the treatments chosen
  • how the cancer responds to treatment

Only a doctor familiar with these factors can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.

Expert review and references

  • Stephen Lam, MD, FRCPC
  • American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging. 2019:
  • PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board . Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) – Health Professional Version . Bethesda, MD : National Cancer Institute ; 2020 :
  • Goldstraw P, Chansky K, Crowley J, et al. The IASLC lung cancer staging project: proposals for the revision of the TNM stage groupings in the forthcoming (eighth) edition of the TNM Classification for Lung Cancer. Journal of Thoracic Oncology. 2015: 11(1):39–51.
  • Canadian Cancer Statistics Advisory Committee. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2021. Canadian Cancer Society; 2021.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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