Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the lungs or to other parts of the body is called staging.

The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. Tests and procedures that may be used in the staging process include the following:

  • Laboratory tests: Medical procedures that test samples of tissue, blood, urine, or other substances in the body. These tests help to diagnose disease, plan and check treatment, or monitor the disease over time.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the brain. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • Radionuclide bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): A procedure in which an endoscope is inserted into the body. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. A probe at the end of the endoscope is used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. This procedure is also called endosonography. EUS may be used to guide fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy of the lung, lymph nodes, or other areas.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration biopsy: An endoscope that has an ultrasound probe and a biopsy needle is inserted through the mouth and into the esophagus. The probe bounces sound waves off body tissues to make echoes that form a sonogram (computer picture) of the lymph nodes near the esophagus. The sonogram helps the doctor see where to place the biopsy needle to remove tissue from the lymph nodes. This tissue is checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
  • Lymph node biopsy: The removal of all or part of a lymph node. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
  • Mediastinoscopy: A surgical procedure to look at the organs, tissues, and lymph nodes between the lungs for abnormal areas. An incision (cut) is made at the top of the breastbone and a mediastinoscope is inserted into the chest. A mediastinoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
  • Anterior mediastinotomy: A surgical procedure to look at the organs and tissues between the lungs and between the breastbone and heart for abnormal areas. An incision (cut) is made next to the breastbone and a mediastinoscope is inserted into the chest. A mediastinoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. This is also called the Chamberlain procedure.
Cancer spreads in the body through tissue, blood or lymph system. When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. The following stages are used for non-small cell lung cancer:

Occult (hidden) Stage

In the occult (hidden) stage, cancer cells are found in sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs), but no tumor can be found in the lung by imaging or bronchoscopy, or the tumor is too small to be checked.

Stage 0 (carcinoma in situ)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the lining of the airways. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.

Stage I

In stage I, cancer has formed. Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB:
  • Stage IA: The tumor is in the lung only and is 3 centimeters or smaller.
  • Stage IB: Cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes and one or more of the following is true:
    • The tumor is larger than 3 centimeters but not larger than 5 centimeters.
    • Cancer has spread to the main bronchus and is at least 2 centimeters below where the trachea joins the bronchus.
    • Cancer has spread to the innermost layer of the membrane that covers the lung.
    • Part of the lung has collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung) in the area where the trachea joins the bronchus.
 

Stage II

Stage II is divided into stages IIA and IIB. Stage IIA and IIB are each divided into two sections depending on the size of the tumor, where the tumor is found, and whether there is cancer in the lymph nodes. Stage IIA: (1) Cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the tumor. The lymph nodes with cancer are within the lung or near the bronchus. Also, one or more of the following is true:
  • The tumor is not larger than 5 centimeters.
  • Cancer has spread to the main bronchus and is at least 2 centimeters below where the trachea joins the bronchus.
  • Cancer has spread to the innermost layer of the membrane that covers the lung.
  • Part of the lung has collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung) in the area where the trachea joins the bronchus.
Or (2) Cancer has not spread to lymph nodes and one or more of the following is true:
  • The tumor is larger than 5 centimeters but not larger than 7 centimeters.
  • Cancer has spread to the main bronchus and is at least 2 centimeters below where the trachea joins the bronchus.
  • Cancer has spread to the innermost layer of the membrane that covers the lung.
  • Part of the lung has collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung) in the area where the trachea joins the bronchus.
Stage IIB: (1) Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the tumor. The lymph nodes with cancer are within the lung or near the bronchus. Also, one or more of the following is true:
  • The tumor is larger than 5 centimeters but not larger than 7 centimeters.
  • Cancer has spread to the main bronchus and is at least 2 centimeters below where the trachea joins the bronchus.
  • Cancer has spread to the innermost layer of the membrane that covers the lung.
  • Part of the lung has collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung) in the area where the trachea joins the bronchus.
Or (2) Cancer has not spread to lymph nodes and one or more of the following is true:
  • The tumor is larger than 7 centimeters.
  • Cancer has spread to the main bronchus (and is less than 2 centimeters below where the trachea joins the bronchus), the chest wall, the diaphragm, or the nerve that controls the diaphragm.
  • Cancer has spread to the membrane around the heart or lining the chest wall.
  • The whole lung has collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung).
  • There are one or more separate tumors in the same lobe of the lung.
 

Stage IIIA

Stage IIIA is divided into three sections depending on the size of the tumor, where the tumor is found, and which lymph nodes have cancer (if any). (1) Cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the tumor. The lymph nodes with cancer are near the sternum (chest bone) or where the bronchus enters the lung. Also:
  • The tumor may be any size.
  • Part of the lung (where the trachea joins the bronchus) or the whole lung may have collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung).
  • There may be one or more separate tumors in the same lobe of the lung.
  • Cancer may have spread to any of the following:
    • Main bronchus, but not the area where the trachea joins the bronchus.
    • Chest wall.
    • Diaphragm and the nerve that controls it.
    • Membrane around the lung or lining the chest wall.
    • Membrane around the heart.
or (2) Cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the tumor. The lymph nodes with cancer are within the lung or near the bronchus. Also:
  • The tumor may be any size.
  • The whole lung may have collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung).
  • There may be one or more separate tumors in any of the lobes of the lung with cancer.
  • Cancer may have spread to any of the following:
    • Main bronchus, but not the area where the trachea joins the bronchus.
    • Chest wall.
    • Diaphragm and the nerve that controls it.
    • Membrane around the lung or lining the chest wall.
    • Heart or the membrane around it.
    • Major blood vessels that lead to or from the heart.
    • Trachea.
    • Esophagus.
    • Nerve that controls the larynx (voice box).
    • Sternum (chest bone) or backbone.
    • Carina (where the trachea joins the bronchi).
or (3) Cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes and the tumor may be any size. Cancer has spread to any of the following:
  • Heart.
  • Major blood vessels that lead to or from the heart.
  • Trachea.
  • Esophagus.
  • Nerve that controls the larynx (voice box).
  • Sternum (chest bone) or backbone.
  • Carina (where the trachea joins the bronchi).
 

Stage IIIB

Stage IIIB is divided into two sections depending on the size of the tumor, where the tumor is found, and which lymph nodes have cancer. (1) Cancer has spread to lymph nodes above the collarbone or to lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest as the tumor. Also:
  • The tumor may be any size.
  • Part of the lung (where the trachea joins the bronchus) or the whole lung may have collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung).
  • There may be one or more separate tumors in any of the lobes of the lung with cancer.
  • Cancer may have spread to any of the following:
    • Main bronchus.
    • Chest wall.
    • Diaphragm and the nerve that controls it.
    • Membrane around the lung or lining the chest wall.
    • Heart or the membrane around it.
    • Major blood vessels that lead to or from the heart.
    • Trachea.
    • Esophagus.
    • Nerve that controls the larynx (voice box).
    • Sternum (chest bone) or backbone.
    • Carina (where the trachea joins the bronchi).
or (2) Cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the tumor. The lymph nodes with cancer are near the sternum (chest bone) or where the bronchus enters the lung. Also:
  • The tumor may be any size.
  • There may be separate tumors in different lobes of the same lung.
  • Cancer has spread to any of the following:
    • Heart.
    • Major blood vessels that lead to or from the heart.
    • Trachea.
    • Esophagus.
    • Nerve that controls the larynx (voice box).
    • Sternum (chest bone) or backbone.
    • Carina (where the trachea joins the bronchi).
 

Stage IV

In stage IV, the tumor may be any size and cancer may have spread to lymph nodes. One or more of the following is true:
  • There are one or more tumors in both lungs.
  • Cancer is found in fluid around the lungs or the heart.
  • Cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain, liver, adrenal glands, kidneys, or bone.
 

Recurrent Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Recurrent non-small cell lung cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the brain, lung, or other parts of the body.

Learn about Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment in the Bay Area