The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 8, 2013
I was a long-time smoker and diagnosed with small cell Lung cancer in 2003. I was told I could not have surgery on my lungs, but I did have a brain tumor due to this cancer that was removed with no difficulties. I had chemotherapy and radiation therapy shortly afterwards. It has been almost five years now and I want to know if I'm almost or officially !0out of the woods?!1 My doctor told me way back in the beginning that this cancer is terminal and that it would return. He told me "if I did not die in a car accident that I would die of this.!1 Could I be cured?
Barbara Campling, MD, Medical Oncologist, responds:
Your story is remarkable. Patients who have small cell lung cancer that has spread to the brain are not expected to be around nearly five years later to tell their tale. But you are around, and you are wondering what the future holds for you. You mentioned that your brain tumor was removed. Surgery would not usually be recommended for small cell lung cancer that has spread to the brain, which makes me wonder whether the diagnosis may have actually been non-small cell lung cancer (I really wish that they would rename these cancers, because it is so easy to incorrectly write "small-cell lung cancer" for "non-small cell lung cancer"). We do occasionally see long-term survivors of patients with non-small cell lung cancer that initially presented with an isolate metastasis to the brain but no other sites of metastasis. If both the primary cancer and the brain metastasis are treated aggressively, there is some hope of cure.
Regardless of whether you had small cell or non-small cell lung cancer at the outset, you have done amazingly well. The longer that you remain free of cancer, the greater the chance that the cancer will not recur. But there is always a chance it could come back, and continuing the surveillance scheduled outlined by your physician is important to ensure that if it does come back, you can catch the recurrence early. Because you smoked in the past, there is also a chance that you could develop a new lung cancer in the future. For both reasons, you will need to continue to be followed closely for the rest of your life. You should celebrate the fact that you have made it this far. Over the past few years, you have probably learned the importance of living for the moment rather than living in fear of what may happen in the future. I wish you all the best and hope years and years from now you remain cancer free.