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Lung Cancer Stages

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell, or SCLC and non small cell, or NSCLC. The stage of a cancer helps the doctor decide the best way to treat the patient.

NSCLC

The stages for NSCLC are done by assessing the size of the tumor, or T; whether the malignancy has spread into a nearby lymph node, or N; and whether the disease has metastasized, or spread to different sites in the body, or M. The T, N or M factors are given numbers from 0 to 4. A higher number corresponds to the severity of the disease. However, there's also an occult stage. In this stage the doctors find malignant cells in the patient's sputum, but the tumor is so small it can't be detected.

Stage 0

This stage is also called carcinoma in situ. The tumor is very small and hasn't spread.

Stage I

The tumor is in the tissues but hasn't spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 2

In this stage, the disease has spread into the lymph nodes.

Stage 3

In Stage 3, the disease has spread into nearby lymph nodes. It has also reached nearby organs such as the patient's esophagus, heart or trachea.

Stage 4

In this stage, the disease has spread to distant organs in the body, including the liver and the brain.

SCLC

SCLC is the less common of the malignancies. It makes up about 20 percent of cancers that attack the lungs, and is correlated with smoking. It usually starts in the bronchi, which are the major airways. SCLC tends to be aggressive.

Though it can be staged the same way as NSCLC, doctors also use a two stage evaluation for SCLC. There's the limited stage, where the malignancy is limited to one side of the patient's chest and maybe a collarbone or a local lymph node. In the extensive stage, it's spread to the other side of the patient's chest, invaded the pleura, or the pulmonary fluid and has spread to other, distant sites in the body.

Survival Rate

Generally, the severity of the disease gives doctor and patient an idea of the patient's survival rate. For SCLC, around 31 percent of patients with Stage 1 are alive after 5 years.

  • For Stage 2 SCLC, 19 percent of patients are alive after 5 years.
  • For Stage 3 SCLC, 8 percent of patients are alive after 5 years.
  • For Stage 4 SCLC, 2 percent of patients are alive after 5 years.
  • For Stage 1 NSCLC, the survival rate is 49 percent after 5 years.
  • For stage 2 NSCLC, 30 percent of patients are alive after 5 years.
  • For stage 3 NSCLC, 14 percent of patients are alive after 5 years.
  • For stage 4 NSCLC, 1 percent of patients are alive after 5 years.

Many types of treatment are available to patients who have SCLC or NSCLC. They include chemotherapy, surgery, drugs that directly target the tumor and newer drugs that stimulate the patient's own immune system to fight the tumor.

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