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Lung Cancer Stages

What You Need to Know

  • When lung cancer is diagnosed, it is staged according to a classification system that indicates where it started, if it has spread and where it has spread.

  • The TNM staging system is used to stage lung cancers other than mesothelioma.

  • The numbers or letters that appear after T, N and M provide further in formation, including severity.

  • Mesothelioma is diagnosed in four separate stages based on severity and location.

When lung cancer is diagnosed, the doctor includes information about the stage of the cancer, the extent to which it has spread and the size of the tumor. The tumor stage helps to guide treatment and prognosis (outcome of an illness). When testing for cancer, doctors will look at nearby lymph nodes, tissue and organs as well to see if cancer is present.

The TNM staging system is used to stage lung cancers other than mesothelioma:

  • T indicates the size of the main or primary tumor and whether is has grown into nearby areas.

  • N describers the spread of cancer to nearby (regional) lymph nodes.

  • M indicates whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other organs of the body, such as the other lung, the brain, bones or liver.

The numbers or letters that appear after T, N and M provide further information, including severity.

Staging for Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is diagnosed in four stages:

  • Stage I is local. The cancer has not spread beyond the chest cavity.

  • Stage II is advanced. The cancer has spread to the diaphragm and/or the lung.

  • Stage III is advanced. The cancer has spread beyond the chest cavity into other areas of the chest, including the lymph nodes.

  • Stage IV is advanced and may be on both sides of the body and in numerous places, including other organs.

As with staging other types of lung cancer, it is useful for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma to discuss the stage their cancer has been assigned with doctors who understand the classification system and what the specific stage means for a patient’s prognosis.

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