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Lung Cancer Info


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After your lung cancer is diagnosed, your doctors will determine the type of lung cancer you have and the stage of the disease. Staging is based on the tumor’s size and whether it has spread to any lymph nodes in the area or to other organs.

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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)
Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)
How will doctors find out the stage of my lung cancer?

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

Stage I

A tumor up to 5 cm wide that has not spread to any lymph nodes or other organs is classified as stage I. These tumors are usually resectable (able to be removed surgically). High-dose radiation therapy may also be used for these tumors.

Stage IANSCLC lung cancer Staging
A tumor 3 cm or smaller

Stage IB
A tumor 3-5 cm wide in any direction

Stage II

Stage II cancers may be a little larger than stage I, and/or may have spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest (hilar lymph nodes), and/or may have begun to invade other structures within the chest. These tumors are usually resectable.

Stage IIA
A tumor 5-7 cm wide in any direction with no spread to lymph nodes OR 
Less than 5 cm, but spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest

Stage IIB
A tumor 7 cm or wider in any direction with no spread to lymph nodes OR
5-7 cm wide, but spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest OR
Beginning to invade structures within the chest OR
More than one tumor in the same lobe of the lung

Stage III

A tumor that has spread to the center of the chest (mediastinum) on the same side as the tumor OR has spread to lymph nodes beyond the same side of the chest, but does not appear to have spread to other organs outside the chest is classified as stage III. Often, stage III tumors are unresectable (unable to be removed surgically). Patients with stage III disease are assessed individually for resection, which may be performed after chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Stage IIIA
Tumor spread to lymph nodes in the center of the chest (mediastinal lymph nodes)

Stage IIIB
Tumor spread to lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest OR
Involves major structures, such as the heart or arteries

Stage IV

Cancer accompanied by pleural effusion (a fluid build-up between the lungs and the chest wall that has cancer cells) or that has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body is classified as stage IV. Although stage IV cancers are generally not curable, there are treatments available that may help you live longer and with an improved quality of life

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)SCLC Lung Cancer Staging

Limited-stage SCLC is cancer present in only one lung, which may have spread to surrounding lymph nodes. Treatment for limited-stage SCLC generally involves both chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Extensive-stage SCLC is cancer that has spread to both lungs, lymph nodes far from the original cancer, or other parts of the body. As with other advanced cancers, extensive-stage SCLC is generally not curable, but there are treatments available that may help you live better and longer.

How will doctors find out the stage of my lung cancer?

Your doctors will determine the stage of your cancer by using any combination of several procedures:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scans scans are sophisticated x-rays that show the body in cross-sections. These crosssections are very good at showing the location and size of tumors and enlarged lymph nodes. They may also identify bone lesions or other sites of disease.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans scans can help determine where tumors are in the body. Because cancer cells grow faster than normal cells, they consume more sugar. A small amount of special dye that contains sugar is injected into a vein, and a PET machine is used to see where the sugar builds up which identifies the location of cancer sites.
  • Bronchoscopy is a procedure in which a doctor puts a small, flexible camera into the airway to look for tumors. The bronchoscope may have tools to remove a small sample (biopsy) of the tumor or lymph nodes for testing.
  • Endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) is a specialized type of bronchoscopy that uses sound waves to create an image of the tumor and nearby tissues to help the doctor find tumors or decide what area to biopsy.
  • Navigational bronchoscopy uses CT scans and computer software to guide the physician to the target tissue. This form of bronchoscopy may be used when a tumor exists in the smallest parts of the airways, or to help doctors better find the right spot to take a standard biopsy.
  • Bone scans create pictures of the bones. A special dye is injected into a vein, and a camera is used to see the dye. This tells doctors how healthy the bones are and whether they have any tumors in them. If you’ve recently had a PET scan, you likely will not need a bone scan. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields to produce detailed images of the body. MRI is particularly useful for finding abnormal growths in the brain.

This information is not designed to be a substitute for medical advice provided by your treatment team.
Last updated 7/2015

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