Background: The core strategy of American College of Chest Physicians lung cancer guidelines is identification of the earliest symptoms of lung cancer and the immediate initiation of diagnosis and treatment. In the absence of screening, most symptomatic lung cancer is discovered at advanced stages, with the goal of long-term survival entirely dependent on effective treatment of stage III and IV lung cancer.
Methods: In a retrospective review, all patients diagnosed with stage IIIA, IIIB, and IV nonsmall cell lung cancer (NSCLC) between the years 1986 and 2001 at City of Hope National Medical Center who survived 5 years or longer were analyzed to identify parameters that might predict long-term survival.
Results: Of 846 patients presenting with stage III or IV disease, 56 (6.6%) survived 5 years or longer. Sixteen patients died of primary tumor progression beyond 5 years. Two 5-year survivors died of second tobacco-caused neoplasms, and 16 died from medical conditions potentially related to prior treatment. A substantial majority of survivors were from specific pathologic subsets including: 1) resectable N2 disease (n = 17, 30.4%), 2) multiple lung tumors (n = 7, 12.5%), 3) T3N0 (n = 5, 8.1%), and 4) single site distant metastasis (n = 8, 14.2%).
Conclusions: Despite aggressive multimodality therapy, 5-year survival in patients with advanced stage NSCLC was very poor and limited to small pathological subsets. Patients with advanced stage NSCLC who did not belong to 1 of these subsets had a small chance of long-term survival.