Lung cancer staging refers to a system of classifying where the cancer is in its growth. This allows physicians a guide to help determine what treatments would be most effective and how aggressively those treatments should be administered. It is also a way of determining the potential outcome of a particular case of lung cancer. The lower the stage, the better the odds of a full recovery.

The process of deciding what stage a lung cancer has reached is called “staging the lung cancer.” This is accomplished through a series of tests, such as x-rays, blood tests, bone scans, etc. The goal is to determine the size of the tumor or tumors and if the cancer has spread to other tissues (metastasized). X-rays, MRIs and CAT scans help to determine the size and location of the tumors. Bone scans and blood work can help to determine whether the cancer has spread to other organs or to the bones. PET scans can indicate whether or not a tumor is actively growing.

Lung cancer staging is also dependent on the type of cancer. For instance, in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), there are four stages, while in small cell lung cancer (SCLC) there are two … limited stage and extended stage. Here’s a quick overview to give you an idea of the differences between the various stages:

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Stage I: The cancer is confined to the lungs. This stage obviously offers the best prognosis. Lung cancer caught in this stage has better than a 49% five year survival rate.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Stage II: The cancer is confined to lung tissue and the lymph nodes within the lungs, the recovery rate is 40-50%

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Stage II: The tumors have spread from the lungs, but are confined to the chest area. Larger, more invasive tumors are generally diagnosed as belonging to this stage.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Stage IV: The cancer has spread away from the chest and invaded other parts of the body such as the liver, adrenal glands, bone, brain, and/or other sites.

Small Cell Lung Cancer Limited Stage: The cancer is confined to the chest area, and has not spread outside the point of origin.

Small Cell Lung Cancer Extended Stage: The cancer has spread beyond the chest to other parts of the body.

The treatment recommended by your doctor will take into account the stage of the lung cancer, as well as the size and location of the tumors and your general overall health. Of course, you’ll have input into how aggressively the cancer should be pursued and all that entails. More and more oncologists are coming to accept that the prognosis of a patient with lung cancer — as it is with any cancer patient — is profoundly affected by the patient’s attitude and decision making.

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