Once a lung cancer diagnosis is confirmed through biopsy, the next step to create an appropriate treatment plan is to determine the lung cancer stage.

Staging involves determining how far the cancer has spread, if at all. As with most types of solid, malignant tumors, lung cancers are assigned one of four stages.

The appropriate treatment depends on the stage, so adequate staging is necessary before treatment.




Stage I

Tumors that are small (less than about an inch) and do not have lymph node involvement

Surgical removal

Stage II

Tumors that have spread to local lymph nodes in the lung or larger tumors involving the chest wall without lymph node involvement

Surgical removal, followed by chemotherapy

Stage III

Tumors that are “locally advanced” in multiple lymph nodes in the chest, but do not appear to have spread (metastasized) to other organs

Chemotherapy and radiation, and sometimes surgical removal

Stage IV

Tumors that have spread to other organs outside the chest

Chemotherapy, sometimes “targeted” therapy

Lung Cancer Stages and Characteristics

As the table above demonstrates, lung cancer treatment depends on the stage of disease, underlining the need for adequate staging before treatment.

The above table is relevant for patients with the most common type of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer.

If biopsy results show an uncommon type of lung cancer called small cell lung cancer, treatment may differ. It is less likely that your doctor will recommend removal using surgery.