Lung cancer stages | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Lung cancer stages

Men and women discussing lung cancer

This page tells you about the staging of lung cancer. There is information about


What staging is

The stage of a cancer tells you how big it is and how far it has spread. It is important because it helps your doctor decide which treatment you need. The tests and scans you have to diagnose your cancer give some information about the stage. Sometimes it is not possible to be certain about the stage of a cancer until after surgery.

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


The number staging system

This divides lung cancers into 4 main groups

Stage 1 – the cancer is small and only in one area of the lung (localised)

Stage 2 and 3 – the cancer is larger and may have grown into the surrounding tissues and there may be cancer cells in the lymph nodes (locally advanced)

Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to another part of the body (secondary or metastatic cancer)

Doctors break down each of these stages of lung cancer into sub groups, such as stage 3a, 3b and so on. There is more detail about each stage of lung cancer and its sub groups on the next page in this section.


TNM staging system

TNM stands for Tumour, Node, Metastases. This staging system describes

  • The size and position of the tumour (T)
  • Whether cancer cells have spread into the lymph nodes (N)
  • Whether the tumour has spread anywhere else in the body – secondary cancer or metastases (M)

The doctor gives each factor a number. So, a very small cancer which hasn’t spread is T1 N0 M0. A cancer that is larger and has spread into the lymph nodes and to another part of the body is T3, N1, M1.

You can find more about lung cancer staging on the next page in this section. It has a detailed explanation of  the TNM lung cancer staging system.

lung impact statement improving treatments

Rate this page:
Submit rating


Rated 4 out of 5 based on 268 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 26 March 2014