Some people diagnosed with lung cancer want to know how long they are going to live. Others don’t want to know but a doctor may offer an estimate without being asked. It’s difficult to go online without encountering prognosis and survival rates for lung cancer but what do these terms mean?

Prognosis refers to the likely outcome, or forecast, of a disease. For cancer, it refers to the chance of recovery or recurrence. The prognosis for lung cancer is an estimate based on the course of the disease taken from studying hundreds or thousands of people who have been diagnosed.

Survival rate is the percentage of people with a type and stage of cancer who survive a specific period of time after diagnosis. It is a common way in which prognosis is discussed. In cancer, five year survival rates are often used.

What does this mean for you?

While statistics can tell us many things about prognosis and survival, it is not possible to predict how long someone in treatment for the disease will live. These numbers are based on large groups of people and cannot be used to predict what will happen to you. How long you will live with or beyond lung cancer depends on many factors—the type and stage of the lung cancer, the location of the cancer, how it responds to treatment, your general health and even whether you are a man or a woman. No two people respond to treatment in the same way and it is not yet possible to tell ahead of time if a particular course of treatment will work for sure.

There are currently hundreds of thousands of lung cancer survivors in the United States. Catching it early and being able to remove it surgically results in the best outcomes, but we also know people with all stages of lung cancer (yes, even stage IV!) who have lived many happy years beyond diagnosis.

Whether you want to know them or not, keep in mind that statistics don’t tell your story. Try to stay focused on your goals and treatment rather than the statistics.