What You Need To Know About The Different Lung Cancer Stages

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Far from being a single, homogeneous affliction, there are two types of lung cancer. The first and most prevalent type is called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which accounts for 85 percent of cases. The other, relatively more-rare type is known as small cell lung cancer (SCLC), and it accounts for the other 15 percent of lung cancer diagnoses. Each type of lung cancer passes through at least two stages. Each of these stage is determined based on the tumor’s size and location, and particularly whether or not it has metastasized and spread to various other parts of the body. In the early stages of each type, the cancer has remained localized. In later stages, it has spread from the lungs and into other major organs as well as the lymphatic system. Because the signs of early stage lung cancer are ambiguous, the disease commonly goes undetected until later stages are reached and symptoms become too severe to ignore.

NSCLC Stages I and II

In this first stage, the cancer is confined to a tumor in the lungs. This tumor is smaller than three centimeters across, and is not yet reached the visceral pleura (the membranes that surround the lungs). Likewise, it has not yet affected or encroached into the bronchi’s main branches. In the second stage, the cancer remains in the lungs but has also spread to nearby lymph nodes. At stage II, the cancer exhibits one or more of the following features: it is between three and seven centimeters; it has encroached into one of the main bronchi and may be approaching the carina (the point at which the windpipe splits into the bronchi); it has grown into visceral pleura; or it has clogged the airways, either partially or to the extent that the lung collapses and/or pneumonia develops.


Upon reaching this stage, the cancer is categorized as a locally advanced disease. It has properties characteristic of NSCLC stage II, and is now found primarily in the lungs and lymph nodes in the middle of the chest; a tumor may have also grown in the space between the lungs and other, adjacent organs. Beyond these characteristics, there are two subcategories of this third stage. In NSCLC Stage IIIA , the cancer has spread only to the lymph nodes on the same side of the chest wherein the cancer originated. In NSCLSC Stage IIIB, the cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest from where the cancer originated. The cancer may also have spread to lymph nodes above the collar bone.


At this stage, the lung cancer has entered the advanced disease category. The cancer is present in both lungs. It may have also spread to another part of the body, such as the fluid surrounding the lungs or to other adjacent major organs. Cancer cells can also be found in distant lymph nodes and may also be present in the fluid linings that surround the lungs and the heart.

SCLC Stages

The progression of small cell lung cancer is generally divide into two broad phases: the limited stage and the extensive phase. In the limited stage, the cancer is found only on one side of the chest; it is present only in one part of the lung may also be present and in the nearby lymph nodes. These can include lymph nodes above the collar bone, as long as they are still located on the same side of the chest. Doctors may also include lymph nodes located in the center of the chest. In the extensive stage, the cancer has spread not only throughout the originating lung but into the other lung as well. Tumors may also have spread to the lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest and beyond, into adjacent organs and even throughout the rest of the body. Approaches to combating lung cancer include radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. All of these methods are far more successful in treating the disease and sending into remission when they are implemented in the early stages. However, as mentioned above, more mild signs and symptoms are easily attributed to other causes. If you are at risk for lung cancer and believe you are suffering symptoms characteristic of the early stages of the disease, you should schedule an examination with your doctor immediately.