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.


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

Questions? Make an Appointment

If you have questions, please call us at (206) 341-1095 for more information. If you suspect you may have symptoms of lung cancer, call our pulmonary team at (206) 223-6622 to make an appointment.