Stages of lung cancer

The stage of a cancer tells you how big it is and whether it has spread. Knowing the stage can help 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’s not possible to be certain about the stage of a cancer until after surgery.

Doctors can use the TNM or number system to stage your cancer. There is also a simplified staging system called limited and extensive stage, for small cell lung cancer. Doctors are starting to use this less frequently, as we learn more about small cell lung cancer.

Staging systems

TNM staging

TNM system stands for Tumour, Node and Metastasis. It is the most common way to stage lung cancer.

Limited and extensive small cell lung cancer stages

Limited disease and extensive disease are ways of describing small cell lung cancer. It is an older and simpler system.

Number staging

Number staging systems use the TNM system to divide cancers into stages. There are 4 stages for lung cancer, numbered from 1 to 4:

  • AJCC Cancer Staging Manual (8th edition)
    American Joint Committee on Cancer
    Springer, 2017

  • Introduction to 2021 WHO Classification of Thoracic Tumors

    M Tsao and others

    Journal of Thoracic Oncology, 2022. Volume 17, Issue1

Last reviewed: 
05 Jan 2023
Next review due: 
05 Jan 2026

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