Why is lung cancer always likely to come back?

My dad met with his oncologist today and my parents had lots of questions as to whether or not to do chemo. He was told that they "removed all the cancer" (tumor and lymph nodes - all lymph nodes benign except one and were removed February 17), but it is likely the cancer will come back? WHY????We are just so confused becasue if there is "no cancer" and even if we do chemo, why is it probable that it will come back? Then dr said that alot of people cant finish the chemo (they r giving him heavy stuff dont know what yet) for 16 weeks once a week. So, if cant even finish the chemo and the cancer is "likely" to come back, why even do it? we are so confused. My dad is being treated at Sloan Kettering and there is a study that is coming out from there that suggests no chemo for anything less than stage IIIB? Such conflicting information. Has anyone with lung cancer ever lived long enough to just die from natural causes? Is this just a time bomb, waiting for the unimaginable? This just seems like such a bad dream.

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Well you are right it is a bad, bad dream a nightmare in fact. My husband is dead now but lived 5 years. He had many problems from the small cell lung cancer treatments. I have stage 4 non small lung cancer supposd to die in 12 months up to 15 months with treatment so i said why bother but then was afraid and went for the treatments who knows if I would still be here or not. All I know is it is no picnic being sick all the time from different things along the way from the medications you get to help keep you alive. But the only think I can say is today is so much better than years ago, I had no vomiting with my chemo, radiation was not hard to go through for me at all and actually chemo wasn't that bad reaqlly either looking back on it now it seems worse than it really was, they have meds to keep you from getting ill, they have pain meds you can take and today the different treatment options they have are amazing compared to just afew years ago and who knows if you do the treatments a cure may just pop up in our lifetime, that is what I am hoping as I am sure we all are hoping but if not, we do get more time to spend with our families and there are some enjoyments in life still. so think on it, it doesn't have to have a decision tomorrow but soon. God bless will send some prayers up to heaven for you.

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You need to read the book Anti-Cancer by Dr. Schreiber. Dr. Schreiber talks about how cancer is nothing more than healthy cells that have morphed into bad actors. Normal people get cancer 6-10 times in their lives, but the macrophages (garbage collectors of the body) detect a bad actor and go clean it out. The person never knows.

Those of us that have cancer means that our immune systems went awry. It may have been caused by chronic inflammation, toxic additives to food, smoking, genetics, radon, too much sugar in the diet or bad luck. Our immune systems didn't do the garbage removal job right.

Chemo kills the symptom of cancer, e.g., tumors and nodules and bad cells, but it also futher compromises the immune system. Chemo is a poison -that may kill both bad and good cells. That is partly why tumors can shrink in traditional chemo but may grow somewhere else in the body a short while after chemo has stopped. We haven't changed the basic biochemistry that led to the malfunctioning immune system. Chemo may actually make it worse.

Our Western medical science focuses on symptoms, it doesn't focus on prevention. To fight cancer, we need both to make us healthy. Attacking symptoms (like tumors) gives us time to achieve the long term goal of a highly functioning immune system. Nutrition (eating so you have an alkaline body), stress reduction, exercise, supplements, etc. helps to fortify our immune system. The science of enhancing the immune system is not as "clinical" as treating tumors because there is less money in it. Vitamin D, for instance, can't be patented so isn't of interest to the pharmaceutical companies. Yet Vitamin D deficiency can be a precursor of cancer.

You will find on this Web site that there are no magical bullets (otherwise someone would be very rich). Understanding what your choices are, though, and what the trade-offs are in that delicate balance between killing cancer and creating a body that is alien to cancer is vital. It's a lot of work (but fun).

Really empathize with you on the confusing messages that come from the medical world. It is a bit of a crap shoot for everybody.

More than you wanted to know, I'm sure. Hope you do read the book, Anti-Cancer, though.

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What wonderful information. My dad is really leaning towards NOT doing chemo, and to be honest, I cant blame him. If this cancer will (as the doctor said) "most likely come back" he would rather have a quality of life (he is sooooo healthy right now you would never know he ever even had cancer). We are just so scared and confused. Thank you for mentioning this book. Thank you for reaching out!

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If your Dad is so healthy right now, with his stage, he also has a good chance of beating it. There are so many survivor stories on this site. Yes, for some chemo, surgery, radiation can be tough but it can also give you a lot of years living. It has to be your own personal feeling, but I wanted to live longer.....so a year of treatment has given me almost two years without treatment and a good quality of life. Good luck and I will say prayers....

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I have stage 1B NSCLC and had surgery to remove the tumor in early March. I had my lower lobe on the right lung removed. The surgery went fine and it was not in the lymph nodes or any other place. The oncologist has given me the option to have chemo or not to have it. My choice. The treatment would be 4 chemo sessions over about 2-3 months. Most of the literature I have come across says that there is no real benefit for stage 1B nsclc. I am not sure what to do and am looking for feedback from anyone who might be in my situation.

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My dads doctor said if his cancer did not go into the 1 lymph node he would have been stage 1 and would not need chemo. This is what we are struggling with too. We just cant seem to gage the pros vs the cons of chemo since dr saying anyway that it is "likely" will come back.

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One thing to consider is that, although there are lots of survivors here, those who have survived early stage LC may not "need" to be here as much as the more advanced patients. My non-scientific opinion is that there are a lot more advanced patients and caregivers here than early stage. I hope this gives you some hope!! You and your dad keep fighting!


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You scare me.

1. Please read up on lung cancer. When you have a lobectomy, there is no assurance that the cancer is removed from the system. You hope that will be the end. Unfortunately, all to often it comes back to bite us.
2. I am continually counseling victims of this disease to get competant doctors, because so few are really competant. That is not the case with your father's treatment. Memorial Sloan Kettering is considered one of the very top lung cancer centers in the country. Everything you have relayed as having been said by them has been excellent advice.
3. The adjuvent Chemo recommended by MSK has been proven to reduce the risk of a return of lung cancer by in the order of 35% as I recall from the actual studies.

Please, please urge your father to follow the recommendations of MSK. They are among the very best in the business.


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Wow - some of the replies have me worried - here's the simple truth - unless the surgeon was GOD himself there could still be ONE tiny cancer cell left behind. If thatis the case then the cancer will most assuredly come back. Having adjunctive chemo treatments will add "insurance" and hopefully kill off any remaining cells - if he is stage 11 they will most likely give him Navelbine and Cisplatin (that's what I had) for 16 weeks once a week. It's doable. One can be in remission from Lung Cancer - but I don't really think one is ever CURED. Some in the medical field use that word - I don't - and my oncologist doesn't either. You may want to get a 2nd opinion - I went to NYU in New York and found them to be better than Sloane - but everyone is different. I like to say (being in remission for 15 months) that we (as lung cancer patients) are never really out of the woods - but we CAN see the forrest thru the trees! Try to be optimistic and have faith - if dad is strong do the chemo - good luck!!!

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I have to agree that Sloan Kettering is very highly regarded in cancer treatment and research. I would urge you to make your confusion known to your dad's Dr. and have him/ her explain the up and down side of chemo and the comment about the likelihood of his cancer returning. Dr's have only general statistics to go by. Have you all met with the Dr together? You might want to schedule a meeting. My husband ALWAYS had a notebook, asked lots of questions and wrote EVERYTHING down.
For me personally, I viewed post-op chemo as a preventative measure. My upper right lobe was removed as well as all the cancer. Prior to surgery, I was stage I, but because a 2nd tumor was found in the same lobe (hiding behind the 1st), I was then IIIB. It made me wonder if and where other cancer cells might be 'hiding out' , so chemo seemed to be a no-brainer. I underwent once a week treatments for 12 weeks- a combination of Cysplatin and Navelbine. One of them was every other week. My nausea was controlled with medication and I had very little hair loss. I had my treatments at Vanderbilt and all in all, it wasn't too bad of an experience. That was 2 1/2 years ago and so far, no return of any cancer, so I have no regrets about my decision.
Involvement of the lymph nodes would make your dad's situation more complicated than my own. It can be helpful to hear the experience of others', but everyone is different, so I would again urge you to discuss your confusion with your dad's Dr. If you're still not sure about what choices to make, ask to see another Dr. Another view point might be helpful. Cancer is a rude diagnosis and has a way a turning people's lives upside down. There's so much information and so many opinions, sometimes it's difficult to think straight
Good luck, Martha

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I ended up with stage 3 a which was found during surgery. They did a total right thoracotomy and felt they got it all. I was told that I had a 60% chance that I was "cured" and it would not come back without any further treatment. They said that chemo might add from 7-15 % chance of survival whatever that means. All I know is that for me, I did not want to spend any voluntary time having chemo and all that goes with it for no promise of any improvement in chances of survival and big chance that it would disrupt my body's immune system to recover from major surgey.

Everyone is different and has to make their own decision. I couldn't have withstood chemo and was amazed that they would actually present it to me. They did not push. It has been almost 2 years since surgery and I have had no complications and have lived a great life since about 3 months post op.

If it comes back, I will evaluate treatment options then. I am very grateful for all the grace I have been given. It truly has been a day at a time of gratitude to be here and enjoying life.

Whatever decision should be totally up to your Dad. I believe we all know what's best for us and no one knows better at a time like this. Afterall it is our life and no one else's that is at stake and how we wish to live it should be entirely our choice.

My best to you and Dad.

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Why would you even consider the possibility of that ONE lymph node leaking a few cancer cells that could invade dad's lungs again in 4 to 6 months????

After my surgery, I was not offered chemo, and the cancer DID come back. DO THE CHEMO! As Karen said, it's Insurance.
Good Luck,

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Hi Marion,
I am very anxious to hear about your doctor say you had a 60% chance of being cured at 3a......my husband is 3a, had ULL, and is about to start chemo......

I havent heard anyhting that encouraging, but would love to hear more....

THanks so much.

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But why do you think it will come back that much sooner (as if chemo will really make any significant difference)? I am so sorry that you were not given the option of chemo, but what we keep earing over and over is that it does come back, just a matter of WHEN. They are strongly looking into "alternative" treatments. And believe me, when my mom first told me this I thought they were crazy, but now I am starting to believe maybe this may be best way for them. No one has answers. It is so tough!!!

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I ask myself that all the time.....BUT given what we know I cant imagine not taking every possible precaution to help insure being one of the lucky few who dont have recurrences....of course a personal choice....

My husband is 3a, .....only microscopic, single node involvement, found after surgery..................so scary, but i want every chance to keep this disease from coming back....good luck to you....

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THE WHEN is a key factor.....because the longer it doesnt come back the better the chances it may never come back......that why everyone looks towards the 2 yr mark and beyond in hopes of keeping it "at bay" for as long as possible....

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Thank you for your response. So much to consider.

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you are welcome.....
yes, the amount of information can be overwhelming......we had multiple opinions, from 3 places , Fox Chase, Sloan, and Morristown ,NJ......

But at least we are finally ready to start the treatment and feel we have made the best decision we could have. Now we have to hope it works so we can join the long term NED club.....

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When I say "No disrespect intended" I mean that. However, please focus on Paul and Linda McCartney, Linda who died of breast cancer. With all of their money, there was NO alternative treatment that could cure Linda.

In a recent interview with Patrick Swayze and his wife with Barbara Walters, Patrick stated, "If anyone out there says they have a cure for cancer, don't believe them, for if they did, they would be very rich and famous." Patrick can also pay for any kind of treatment, even though he is slowly dying of pancreatic cancer.

Cancer has a mind of it's own. I tend to believe that you and your family are terrified of Chemo. Compared to my surgery, Chemo was a piece of cake. True, I lost my hair, and I had hair halfway down my back. I did 4 rounds of Taxotere and Carboplatinum. My rounds were every 21 days. Day 2 I started to feel lousy through day 7 or 8. By day 10 I was my typical bad self again until day 21 and I started the next round.

Sloan Kettering is the best, and is giving you their best advice. When cancer comes back, it usually comes back with a vengance. I had no lymph involvement and only 1 tumor. When it came back, it came back in 3 places.

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Just to clarify one thing, I had those 4 rounds of Chemo PRIOR to surgery to shrink my tumor.

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