What Are The Stages Of Lung Cancer?

I am often asked what are the stages of lung cancer and how does your medical team come to the conclusion of your staging. There are MANY tests to help determine this. A few of the tests are:

  • Chest X ray
  • CT Scan
  • Pet Scan
  • MRI of brain
  • Biopsy of any tumors that may be found
  • Mediastinal biopsy ( minor surgery where they take samples of lymph nodes in chest)

Staging lung cancer

Once these tests, and possibly others, are performed, your medical team will review the results. Your staging will then be determined based on whether the cancer is in only one location (local) or has spread beyond the lungs to other organs. Because the lungs are large, it is possible for tumors to grow undetected for some time. Even when symptoms like coughing occur, people may think they are due to other causes. This makes diagnosing lung cancer at the early stages difficult.

What is non-small cell lung cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for about 85 percent of lung cancers. It includes adenocarcinoma (the most common lung cancer), squamous cell carcinoma (accounting for 25 percent of all lung cancers), and large cell carcinoma (accounting for about 10 percent of NSCLC tumors).

NSCLC is broken into four stages. There is:

  • Stage I: The cancer is only in the lungs and has not spread elsewhere.
  • Stage II: The cancer is in the lung and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage III: Cancer is in the lung and lymph nodes in the middle of the chest. This is also considered locally advanced disease that has two subtypes (1) If the cancer has spread only to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest where the cancer started, it is called stage IIIA and 2) If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest, or above the collar bone, it is called stage IIIB.)
  • Stage IV: This is the most advanced stage of lung cancer and described as advanced disease. This is when the cancer has spread to both lungs, to fluid in the area around the lungs, or to another part of the body, such as the liver or other organs.

Remembering my diagnosis day

It has been 4-1/2 years since my initial diagnosis, however, I can honestly say I remember it as if it were yesterday. My surgeon told me I had to have several tests to help stage my cancer. I had a biopsy, an MRI of my brain, and a PET scan. During this time, my head was spinning and I really didn't understand everything they were telling me.

If you are reading this, I am sure you are probably feeling the same way. My best advice is don't let the stress of all these tests get the best of you. I found myself panicking over the fact they were testing my entire body. And of course, I searched the internet. You could have a stomach ache and somewhere on the internet, it will tell you that you have some type of odd disease. Take what you read with a grain of salt - everyone is different. You and I could have the exact same symptoms and we could be completely different in terms of what stage we are.

Everyone's diagnosis is unique

By the way, prior to surgery, I was told I would be a Stage 2 or Stage 3a. After surgery, I was 3b. So the bottom line is, no one really knows until you go through the complete battery of tests.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on January 28, 2020, Jennifer Toth passed away. Jennifer was a passionate advocate for the Lung Cancer community. She will be deeply missed.

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