Oncology (General Cancer)/Lung Cancer

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Question
Hi Dr. Higby,

I am a 51 year old divorced female, ex smoker for 5 years but smoked for 28. I was just diagnosed with stage 111 A, Non Small Cell, Squamous Cell, Lung Cancer. My mass is 7 centimeters and I am starting 33 days of radiation next week to shrink it. Then it will be followed by chemo. I live alone and don't have any children and have no family left. I was wondering about how long I have to live in your opinion as the doctors won't answer my question except to say some people make it 5 years. That is a long shot and I am trying to continue to work part time and get my affairs in order but don't know how much longer I will be able to function at this level. I am short of breath, have COPD and cough up blood and sputem at times. There is no pain so far but it's the middle of winter and I have so much to do before I get too sick to sell off my belongings and downsize to a smaller apartment. Do you think I have at least a year before I'm too sick to take care of loose ends?

Thank You,
Kelly

Answer
I'm sorry to hear of your situation.  If you have severe copd and stage IIIA squamous cancer, it is almost certainly not curable.  If surgery could remove what was left after the radiation and chemo without leaving you a pulmonary cripple, even then it's not likely that you would be cured.  That being said, I think you need to ask whether it makes sense to take chemotherapy after the radiation.  There is some evidence that when it is given with radiation, the results are better; but when given afterwards it probably doesn't matter whether you give it right away or wait until something else pops up.  
All that being said, my own prognosis is that the chances are good that you will be around in a year. (75% or so).  How good you will feel is another question.  It might be a good idea to contact hospice services and very often they have volunteers who might help you with "getting your affairs in order".  I wish you the best.  

Oncology (General Cancer)

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Donald Higby, M.D.

Expertise

I can answer almost all questions related to the treatment and natural course of most kinds of cancer, especially cancers of prostate, colon, lung and breast.

Experience

I have been a practicing medical oncologist for 36 years, and have been chief of service at a major medical center for 25 years. I've also done research in cancer treatments.

Organizations
American Society of Clinical Oncology

Publications
New England Journal of Medicine American Journal of Medicine Journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology Hematology Transfusion Medicine

Education/Credentials
MD, Stanford University Internal Medicine residency, St. Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO Medical Oncology Fellowship, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY

Awards and Honors
America's Best Physicians, last 14 years

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