Lung cancer staging

Before doctors can describe what kind of treatment will work best for you, they must consider a number of things, including the stage of your cancer.

The stage of any cancer is found using a number of tests and scans which look at the size, position and the extent of any spread of your cancer.

Staging for lung cancer is a complicated process and is difficult to explain. Please don't worry if you don't fully understand the information on this page. Your doctor or lung cancer nurse specialist can go over it with you.

There are different ways of staging lung cancer. There is a number staging system and a system called the TNM system.

TNM staging system

TNM stands for Tumour, Node and Metastasis, and looks at the following:

  • T: The size and position of the tumour.
  • N: Which lymph nodes in the region are affected, if any.
  • M: Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, which is known as secondary cancer or metastases. 

The doctor gives each factor a number. The lower the numbers, the less advanced or smaller the cancer is. For example, a very small cancer which hasn’t spread would be T1 N0 M0.

The number staging system

This divides lung cancers into four main groups:

  • Stage 1 – the cancer is small and hasn’t spread (localised).
  • Stages 2 or 3 is larger and may have spread into surrounding tissues. There may be cancer cells in the lymph nodes (locally advanced).
  • Stage 4 has spread to another part of the body (secondary or metastatic cancer).

Remember that everyone is treated as an individual, and therefore two people with lung cancer at the same stage may be cared for in different ways.

See here for Living with Lung Cancer booklet: Lung Cancer Booklet 

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