Carolinas HealthCare System

Following a cancer diagnosis, your healthcare team will determine the stage of the cancer. This will be based on the extent of disease in the lungs, lymph nodes and rest of the body. Staging is completed before providing a treatment plan.

Some of the tests used to diagnose lung cancer are also used to stage lung cancer. Your cancer team has many testing options, which include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, bone scans, endoscopic ultrasounds and biopsies.

The TNM system is used to stage cancer. In lung cancer, "T" stands for tumor (location and size), "N" stands for node (lymph node involvement and location) and "M" stands for metastasis (spread beyond the involved lung). While some stages are broken down into multiple parts, the following are the basic stages used for lung cancer:

  • Stage I: Cancer is small and confined to one lobe of the lung.
  • Stage II: Cancer is larger and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage III: Cancer is more invasive and has spread to lymph nodes located in the middle or opposite side of the chest.
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to both lungs, surrounding fluid or other areas of the body.

Once staging and biopsies are completed, your healthcare team will start mapping out a plan of treatment.