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How is non-small cell lung cancer staged?

The stages of non-small cell cancer are:
  • Occult stage: Cancer cells are found in sputum (mucus) or other lung fluids, but no tumor is seen on x-rays.
  • Stage 0: Cancer is only found in a local area and only in a few layers of cells. It has not grown through the top lining of the lung or spread to lymph nodes or distant sites. Another term for this type of lung cancer is carcinoma in situ.
  • Stage I: The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes or area outside the chest.
  • Stage II: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or the chest wall.
  • Stage III: The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the area that separates the two lungs (mediastinum); or to the lymph nodes on the other side of the chest or in the lower neck.
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Recurrent: Cancer has come back (recurred) after you have been treated.
Non-small cell lung cancer is staged using the same techniques and equipment as diagnosis. The cancer's stage is determined according to its level of advancement. There are very early stages, like Occult, which indicates that while cancer cells have been found there is no tumor evident, or Stage 0, where cancer cells are only found on surface cells and not within lung tissue. Stage I non-small cell lung cancer remains in the lungs and has not yet spread to the lymph nodes or other tissues, or the tumor is 5 cm or smaller; other criteria may also determine this stage. Stage IIA non-small cell lung cancer may have spread beyond the lungs to the chest wall, lymph nodes, or other nearby areas but the tumor remains small, or the tumor is larger but has not spread beyond the membrane covering the lung. In Stage IIB, the tumor is larger and may have spread to the lymph nodes, the membrane around the heart, or other nearby areas, or there may be a second tumor in the same lobe of the lung. Stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the chest cavity, or the diaphragm or other parts of the abdomen near the lungs; the tumor may be any size. Stage IIIB non-small cell lung cancer has spread to other organs and structures in the chest cavity, including the trachea, esophagus, heart, blood vessels, the pleura, or membrane around the lungs, or the lymph nodes at the collarbone. Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer is the most advanced stage, where the cancer has spread throughout the body to distant organs and structures like the brain, liver, or bones.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.