What are the stages of lung cancer?

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Staging means finding out how big the cancer is and if it has spread to other parts of your body. Staging will help your doctor to plan the best treatment for you.

Staging non-small cell lung cancer

The staging system normally used  is called TNM. This stands for:

  • Tumour (T): How deeply has the tumour has grown into the lungs?
  • Node (N): Is there cancer in your lymph nodes?
  • Metastasis (M): Has the cancer spread to other parts of your body?

Your doctor often uses this information to give your cancer a number stage – from 1 to 4.

In general, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. 

What are the stages of lung cancer?

Stage 1: The cancer is inside the lung (localised) and has not spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 2 and 3: The cancer may be larger in size and/or may affect the nearby lymph nodes or surrounding tissue.

Stage 4: The cancer has spread to a distant part of the body such as the liver, bones or the brain. This can also be called metastatic (advanced) cancer.

Staging small cell lung cancer

More and more doctors are using the TNM and number staging system to stage small cell lung cancer. However, some will describe your cancer as a limited stage disease or extensive stage disease.

  • Limited stage: This usually means the cancer is in one lung and may be in nearby lymph nodes.
  • Extensive stage: This means the cancer may have spread to the other lung, to more distant lymph nodes or to other parts of your body.

Staging can be hard to understand, so ask your doctor and nurse for more information if you need it.

For more information

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