Staging the Tumor

When your physician stages a cancer, he or she is placing it in a category, such as Stage I or Stage II, based on how much it has grown and whether or not it has spread to other organs and tissues. The stage of a cancer will also determine how it will be treated and the estimated survival rate. At Virginia Mason in Seattle, your doctor may also "grade" the tumor which is different from staging. A tumor grade is a determination of whether or not the cancer is slow growing or fast growing.

Staging in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
(Note: Small cell lung cancer is staged as limited or extensive.)

  • Occult Stage
    In this stage, cancer cells are present in the sputum but no tumor is found in the lung.

  • Stage 0
    The cancer is present in a few layers of cells and is confined to one (local) area.

  • Stage I
    The cancer is present in the lung and in the tissue around it.

  • Stage II
    The cancer is present in the lung and in nearby lymph nodes.

  • Stage IIIA
    In this stage, the cancer has spread to the chest wall, the diaphragm near the lung, or to the lymph nodes in the mediastinum (the area between the lungs in your chest cavity).

  • Stage IIIB
    Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes on the other side of the chest or to the fluid outside the lung (pleural fluid).

    With stage IIIA cancer, surgery is an option. In stage IIIB cancer, surgery is no longer an option.

  • Stage IV
    In this stage, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the brain, bones, liver and adrenal glands.

  • Recurrent
    If the cancer returns after treatment it is called recurrent cancer.