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Lung Cancer Stages and Treatment Options in NJ, CT, and MD

Staging is vital when treating all cancer types because it tells physicians what options are available to patients. With lung cancer, the disease manifests in two main types — small cell and non-small cell — each with different staging. At Regional Cancer Care Associates, experienced oncologists and hematologists are skilled in treating multiple cancers and blood disorders, including lung cancer. These doctors are dedicated to delivering patient-centered care to individuals in New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area.

Small Cell vs. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Diagram depicting lung cancer stages

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Most people who develop the disease either have small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) or non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Small cell lung cancer makes up a much smaller percentage of all lung cancers than non-small cell lung cancer. However, it tends to be more aggressive and spreads faster. Well over three-quarters of all lung cancer cases are of the non-small cell variety. This type of lung cancer also has several sub-types, including:

  • Adenocarcinomas
  • Adenocarcinoma in situ (AIS)
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma
  • Large cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell lung carcinoma

Stages of Lung Cancer

The five-year survival rate for non-small cell lung cancer is significantly higher than for small-cell lung cancer. With non-small cell lung cancer that does not travel outside the lung, the five-year survival rate is 64%, compared to 29% for small cell lung cancer. For both cancers, the 5-year survival rate drops substantially — to 8% and 3%, respectively — once the disease reaches other parts of the body. For this reason, early detection and treatment are essential for patients with lung cancer to experience better outcomes.

Using staging, doctors can gauge the progression of the disease to make the best choice of treatment. The primary method for staging lung cancer is called TNM classification. The T refers to the size and location of the tumor, the N indicates whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and the M refers to metastasis — or spread to other organs. Here is how staging differs between small cell and non-small cell lung cancer:

Small Cell Lung Cancer Staging

Small cell lung cancer has two stages, limited and extensive. Limited stage means the cancer is present in one lung and has spread only to regional lymph nodes, if at all. The extensive stage indicates the tumor has moved to the other lung or other areas of the body, such as the brain.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Staging

Non-small cell lung cancer consists of four main stages, plus two initial stages that occur before cancer has become more prominent. These stages are:

  • Hidden/occult stage: Cancer cells are found in mucus but are not detectable on scans or biopsies.
  • Stage 0: The tumor is small and has not penetrated deeper lung tissues.
  • Stage I: Cancer is in the lungs but has not moved to lymph nodes
  • Stage II: Cancer is present in the lungs and potentially in the lymph nodes.
  • Stage III: Malignant cells have spread past the lymph nodes into the chest.
  • Stage IV: Cancer has permeated the body, spreading to organs such as the liver and bones.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Both types of lung cancer can cause a variety of symptoms During the early stages of disease, a patient may not have any noticeable symptoms. If they do, however, they might experience one or more of the following:

  • Chronic or worsening cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Back pain that spreads to the spinal cord and ribs
  • Chest pain that intensifies when coughing, laughing, or breathing deeply
  • Coughing up blood or phlegm
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Frequent respiratory infections

As lung cancer progresses and tumors develop in other parts of the body, signs and symptoms of the disease change. These indicators will differ based on where the cancer has spread. Some symptoms patients may encounter include:

  • Bone pain, particularly in the back, ribs, and hips
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Swelling in the face and upper body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Lack of sensation in arms and legs
  • Dizziness and other balance problems

Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

Lung cancer can affect any person, but certain factors can increase the likelihood a person developing the disease. Smoking is the biggest contributor, but other risk factors that heighten the chances a person will have lung cancer include:

  • Advancing age
  • Exposure to chemicals (asbestos, radon, diesel fuel exhaust)
  • Family or personal history of lung cancer
  • Prior radiation therapy

Treatments for Both Lung Cancer Types

Regional Cancer Care Associates uses cutting-edge techniques to treat small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. The following are some treatments oncologists provide to patients:

  • Chemotherapy: Patients are given powerful drugs that kill cancers.
  • Targeted therapy: Like chemotherapy, this approach uses drugs to attack malignant cells. Unlike chemotherapy, however, targeted therapy destroys or renders harmless cells with specific genetic profiles or mutations involved in the development and spread of cancer, while not affecting health cells.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment focuses on the immune system, enabling it to eliminate cancerous cells.
  • Radiation therapy: Typically offered alongside other treatments, radiation therapy employs high-energy rays to eradicate or slow the growth of cancer cells.
  • Surgery: Surgery is effective for treating multiple cancers, and a surgeon may operate for many reasons, from potential cure to palliative care.
  • Clinical trials: These thoughtfully created and managed scientific studies test drugs, devices, and other tests for their effectiveness by administering them to consenting patients.

Learn More About the Stages of Lung Cancer

Patients with lung cancer who wish to know more about staging and the latest treatment options can rely on the oncologists and hematologists of Regional Cancer Care Associates. These physicians provide comprehensive, cutting-edge, and compassionate care at 25 community-based care centers throughout New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area. Visit one of these locations to learn more about lung cancer treatment.