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Staging Lung Cancer

When lung cancer is diagnosed, it is staged according to a classification system that indicates where it started, if it is spread and where. A cancer that comes back or spread is still referred to by the stage assigned when the cancer was first diagnosed. 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, or M provide further information, including severity. This classification system is complex and may be difficult for a patient to understand. Doctors can interpret the classification and help a patient to better understand what the stage means.

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.

For an appointment and answers to your questions

As a leading treatment center for lung cancer, Johns Hopkins offers its patients personalized care, specialized treatment, and pioneering therapies to extend life.

To make an appointment or if you have questions, call 410-955-LUNG (5864).


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