Lung Cancer Stages
Knowledge of Stages Leads to Appropriate Treatment


The various lung cancer stages exhibit different warning signs and symptoms lung cancer. How are the stages determined? Stages are based on a pathology report from examining some tissues extracted from your lung with the tumor. Determining the best option among the many treatments for lung cancer depends largely on the proper determination of the stages.


Stages of cancer in the lungs are determined through the following medical procedures:

  • bronchoscopy
  • needle biopsy
  • blood chemistry tests
  • imaging tests such as chest x-ray, abdominal ultrasound of the liver, bone scans, CT scan, MRI scan of the brain, chest and abdomen


doctor reading ct scan to determine staging in lung cancer


Are stages the same for the 2 types of lung cancer?

Stages are different for the 2 types - the non-small cell (NSCL) and small cell (SCLC) types.

The NSCLC uses the TNM staging system which describes tumor in stages 1 to 4:


Stage 1

Non small cell lung cancer in stage 1 is . . .

  • still tiny and confined to original site in your lung and
  • no cancerous cell in any of the lymph node and other parts of your body.
Stage 1 is further divided into stages 1A and 1B. The difference between stages 1A and 1B is the size of the tumor. In stage 1A, its size is not more than 3cm and in stage 1B, its size is between 3 to 5cm.


Stage 2

Stage 2 is categorized as 2A and 2B stages.

In stage 2A, the tumor is either:

  • less than 5cm but cancerous cells are found in the lymph nodes near the affected lungs OR

  • between 5 to 7cm in size and no cancerous cells in the lymph nodes.

In stage 2B . . .

  • the tumor is bigger than 7cm in size but no cancerous cells are found in any of the lymph nodes OR

  • it is 5 to 7cm in size with cancerous cells in the lymph nodes near your affected lungs OR

  • it has moved into 1 or more of the following areas: layers that cover your heart, wall of your chest, diaphragm but there are no malignant cells in lymph nodes OR

  • it is located near the area where the main bronchus divides to go into the lungs OR

  • its size varies and there is more than 1 tumor in the same lobe of the affected lungs.


Stage 3

Stage 3 is one of the advanced stages. In this stage, the entire lung with cancer has collapsed or is inflammed because of the build up of mucus. It is divided into stages 3A and 3B.

In stage 3A . . .

  • the tumor is in lymph nodes near your lungs, is bigger than 7cm, has moved into 1 or more of the parts of your body like diaphragm, chest wall, layers around your heart OR

  • it is of any size but has moved into lymph nodes close to the heart and main airway on the same side of your chest where the affected lung is OR

  • it is of any size and has metastasized to another major part in your chest like the heart, esophagus, spinal bone or windpipe (trachea) with malignant cells in the lymph nodes near the lung OR

  • it is in more than 1 lobe of and has spread into lymph nodes close to the affected lung.
In stage 3B . . .
  • the tumor is of any size and has spread to lymph nodes on both sides of the chest OR

  • it is in lymph nodes at the middle of your chest and has metastasized to 1 or 2 areas like the chest wall, diaphragm, esophagus, trachea.


Stage 4

This is one of the advanced stages of cancer. Among the lung cancer stages, prognosis for the final stages is very poor and prevention of symptoms to worsen is impossible.

In advanced stage . . .

  • the tumor has spread to another part of your body like the liver, bones, brain, adrenal glands OR

  • there are already cancerous cells in the fluid around your lungs (malignant pleural effusion) or in the fluid in your heart (malignant pericardial effusion).

Advanced stage also brings many painful effects of lung cancer. I have seen how my father endured all of these side effects. This is why prevention of getting sick with lung tumor is a must. Give up smoking if you smoke and always avoid tobacco smoke if you don't.

Click here for info on advantages of quitting smoking.

Lung cancer stages for the SCLC type is described using lung a two-tiered system that differs from the TNM staging. The stages in the two-tiered system is:

1) Limited stage (LS) - tumor is confined to its original site in the lung

2) Extensive stage (ES) - cancerous cells have spread beyond the affected lung.


Why is knowledge of stages in cancer of the lungs important?

Knowing the stages is vital because it . . .

  • provides info on the size of your tumor and if there are cancerous cells in the lymph nodes near the lungs

  • helps your doctor in coming up with a prognosis - what you might expect and how you will do as the tumor progresses

  • helps determine if the tumor has spread beyond your lungs and if prevention of metastasis is possible

  • provides an estimate of survivability as well as risk for recurrence of the tumor and

  • helps your doctor recommend what type of treatment is appropriate because treatment for different lung cancer stages is specific to each stage.

You together with your doctor can plan the best option among the various treatments if you both know the type of tumor and the lung cancer stages you are diagnosed with.







What would you like to read next?


What Causes Lung Cancer

How to Prevent Lung Cancer and Other Health Effects of Smoking

Return from Lung Cancer Stages to Information on Lung Cancer

Return from Lung Cancer Stages to Prevention Home


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