Health Alert:

See the latest Coronavirus Information including testing sites, visitation restrictions, appointments and scheduling, and more.

Lung Cancer Stages

If you've been told you have a lung nodule, you may be anxious for answers. We get you those answers quickly. Advances in lung cancer research have made that possible, and patients are living longer than ever.

Staging is the process of finding out if and how far lung cancer has spread. The lung cancer staging system is the standard way doctors describe a cancer diagnosis. Your treatment plan and prognosis (likely outcome) depend on the stage of the cancer.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Stages

Doctors use the TNM system to stage non-small cell lung cancer. The TNM staging system is one of the most widely used cancer staging systems. The system describes:

  • Tumor (T): Size and other characteristics of the main (primary) tumor
  • Node (N): How many lymph nodes are involved
  • Metastasis (M): If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body

These details are then given a number to classify the cancer as:

  • Stage I: The cancer is in the lungs and has not spread.
  • Stage II: The cancer is in the lungs and has started to spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage III (locally advanced disease): The cancer is in the lungs and lymph nodes in the chest. Stage III has two subtypes:
    • Stage IIIA: The cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the primary tumor.
    • Stage IIIB: The cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the other side of the chest or by the collarbone.
  • Stage IV (advanced disease): The cancer is in both lungs or has spread to fluid around the lungs or other parts of the body, such as the liver, bones or brain.

Small Cell Lung Cancer Stages

Doctors stage small cell lung cancer differently than non-small cell lung cancer. The small cell lung cancer stages are:

  • Limited-stage small cell lung cancer: The cancer is in the lung and may have spread to the mediastinum (area between the lungs) or to lymph nodes by the collarbone.
  • Extensive-stage small cell lung cancer: The cancer has spread to other areas in the body.

How Do You Stage Lung Cancer?

To determine the cancer stage, we perform a physical exam, biopsies and imaging tests. Biopsy samples tumor tissue so our pulmonary pathologists (doctors who specialize in lung cancer diagnosis) can perform genetic tests on the cancer cells. Traditional biopsy results generally come back within two to six weeks.

In some small cell lung cancer cases, we also offer liquid biopsy. Liquid biopsy is a groundbreaking blood test we developed that can identify tumor targets within a week.

If the tumor has known molecular targets, you may be able to get targeted therapy to treat the lung cancer. Targeted therapy involves highly effective medication you take at home while living your normal life.

Other possible treatment options include:

We are the only hospital in Philadelphia that has multiple pathologists with the highest level of lung cancer training. Our pulmonary pathologists use their expertise to provide important details that others may miss. This information helps us better personalize your care.