When lung cancer reaches stage 4 it means that it has spread beyond the initial site where it formed. It is called advanced lung cancer and is very difficult to treat. However, the right treatment can extend life expectancy. Survival rates for stage 4 lung cancer vary according to factors such as the type of lung cancer, where it has spread and a person’s overall health.
When cancer is diagnosed at stage 4, doctors may also categorize it based on whether it’s limited or extensive. For instance, stage 4A lung cancer has not yet spread to other parts of the body, while stage 4B has. This classification can help guide treatment options.
Symptoms of stage 4 lung cancer include chest pain, coughing and trouble breathing. The pain occurs when tumors grow and press on the lungs, which prevents them from expanding fully or allowing adequate oxygen exchange. This is why it is important to have regular checkups and to let your doctor know about any new or changing symptoms.
Other symptoms of stage 4 lung cancer include fatigue and weight loss. It is also common for cancer to spread from the lungs to other organs, including the brain, bones and liver. These other areas can be referred to as metastatic sites, and they can sometimes develop their own tumors. It is more likely that lung cancer will spread to other parts of the body if it is from small cell cancer or mesothelioma, both of which are types of asbestos-related cancer.
Stage 4 lung cancer treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and prolonging life, rather than curing the cancer. Treatment for lung cancer at this stage usually involves chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. In some cases, doctors will combine these therapies with palliative care, which aims to ease symptoms and improve quality of life.
If lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body, doctors may try to remove any visible lumps or masses with a biopsy. They can also use a special needle to collect a sample of tissue from a lymph node or other part of the body, such as the liver. A pathologist will examine the tissue for cancer cells and make a diagnosis.
In some cases, the cancer can be cured in its late stages by surgery or other therapies that target a particular site of the body. For example, lung cancer that has spread to the lining of the lungs around the lungs can be treated with a special surgery and chemotherapy combination. The procedure is called thoracentesis.
The survival rate for stage 4 lung cancer depends on where the cancer has spread and a person’s overall ability to function, as measured by an Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) performance status score. People with a higher ECOG score are able to tolerate more aggressive treatment, which has a greater chance of prolonging life. However, even with the best treatments, some people will not survive lung cancer at stage 4. It is very important to discuss all your treatment options with your doctor.