What are the Stages of Lung Cancer Progression?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2019
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Lung cancer is a devastating illness that is one of the most common forms of cancer. 2010 estimates for lung cancer in the United States alone suggest that 222,520 new cases will occur and 157,300 deaths will be attributed to the disease per year. Understanding the progression of lung cancer is an important part of learning about the disease.

It is important to understand that there are multiple types of lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer is often linked to smoking and involves tiny cells that quickly multiply to form large tumors. Non-small cell lung cancer, which makes up most cases, comes in four main types: squamous cell carcinoma, which creates tumors in the bronchial tubes; adenocarcinoma, which affects the mucous glands; bronchioalveolar, which causes air sac tumors; and large cell non-differentiated carcinoma, which tends to attack the exterior surface of the lungs.

In small cell lung cancer progression, there are two main stages. If the tumor exists only in one lung and localized area, it is said to be in the limited stage. Tumors or cancerous cells in both lungs or in other organs is indicative of the extensive stage. Treatment options and prognosis will vary depending on the stage and amount of spreading.


Most medical experts divide non-small cell lung cancer progression into four distinct stages with several additional sub-stages. In stage one, the tumor is less than 3 centimeters across and has not invaded lymph nodes or other organs. Stage two occurs when cells have reached the lymph nodes, or it has invaded the bronchus or is growing through the lining of the lung. In stage three, the tumor may be larger or have grown into several tumors in one lung lobe. Stage four occurs when the cancer has metastasized and invaded other organs in the body, including the brain or liver.

Analysis of lung cancer progression is usually monitored through regular testing. Some of the tests a doctor may use to check on lung cancer progression include computed topomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) tests, or bone scans. These can show the level of invasiveness as well as early signs of metastatic growth. Signs of lung cancer progressing can show that treatment is not working and may require a different approach.

Symptoms associated with lung cancer progression include increasing respiratory problems. Pain in the chest, bloody coughs, and shortness of breath are common symptoms. Additionally, patients may be subject to lung infections and pneumonia, and must take special precautions to avoid illness.

There are treatments for lung cancer that can be successful in stopping the disease. Some common methods of attacking the disease include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Generally, the earlier the cancer is caught, the more effective the treatment. Doctors may also be able to prescribe medication to alleviate the symptoms associated with lung cancer progression.


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