Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is considered incurable. By the time the disease has reached this stage, it has spread beyond its original site into other areas of the body. While it can be treated, those who are diagnosed with it can hope only that the tumor goes into remission.
Lung cancer spreads when diseased cells detach themselves from a tumor, and migrate via the bloodstream. The most common sites of metastasis are the liver, brain, lymph nodes, and bones. Once NSCLC has spread beyond the lung, traditional procedures, such as wedge resections, lobectomies, and pneumonectomies, will not, by themselves, cure the disease. Other forms of treatment are required.
Below, we’ll describe the symptoms that display with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. We’ll also take a look at available treatment options, and the expected survival rate for those who are diagnosed with it.
Common Symptoms Of Metastatic NSCLC
Signs of metastasis differ from symptoms that present when a tumor is located in one or both lungs. With localized lung cancer, a persistent cough accompanied by bloody sputum is common. Difficulty taking deep breaths, hoarseness, and recurring bouts of infections, such as pneumonia, are also common. Depending on the tumor’s location within the affected lung, it may exert pressure on the nerves, causing pain in the chest and arms.
Symptoms of metastatic lung cancer vary based on which part of the body has been exposed to the diseased cells. If the brain is affected, you may experience intense headaches, problems with your vision, and a loss of balance and coordination. These and other signs are similar to those that present in cases of stroke.
If the disease spreads to the bones, it can cause pain in the hips as well as throughout the back. It may feel similar to pulling a muscle in the beginning, but will worsen. If the tumor reaches the spine, you may have difficulty walking.
When NSCLC spreads to the lymph nodes, the nodes will usually swell. This, by itself, does not present any serious problems, but can cause hoarseness and noticeable swelling in the neck.
How Stage 4 NSCLC Is Treated
As mentioned earlier, stage 4 lung cancer cannot be resolved by surgery alone. Even if a surgeon is able to remove diseased tissue by performing a lobectomy, the tumor will have already spread elsewhere in the body. This means the disease can continue to metastasize. For this reason, chemotherapy is often used as a systemic approach to eliminating cancer cells.
The drawback of chemotherapy is that the chemicals do not discriminate between good and bad cells; they merely target those that divide more quickly than others. While this is an effective method for targeting cancer cells, therapy also damages good cells. This is the reason many patients experience side effects, such as hair loss and nausea.
Radiation therapy can also prove useful in treating stage 4 lung cancer. It is administered to help manage symptoms, as opposed to completely ridding the body of cancer cells. Rather than chemicals, this form of treatment directs radiation at targeted areas of the body.
Expected Survival Rate For Stage 4 Lung Cancer
By the time non-small cell lung cancer has reached stage 4, the patient has a 10 percent chance of survival after five years. There are, however, many factors that influence a person’s life expectancy. For example, younger patients have a better chance of survival than older patients; your body’s tolerance of chemotherapy and radiation therapy also play a role; and unrelated medical conditions, such as an arrhythmia, can lower your chances of survival.
There are clinical trials that may yield new treatments that extend the life expectancy of patients diagnosed with stage 4 NSCLC. Your doctor can discuss these developmental treatment strategies with you to determine if you are a suitable candidate.
Because stage 4 lung cancer is incurable, early diagnosis is critical. If you suspect you may have the disease, consult your physician immediately.