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What Are the Stages of Lung Cancer?

By Dr. Arun Goel in Cancer Care / Oncology , Surgical Oncology

Feb 23 , 2018 | 3 min read

One of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in both men and women, lung cancer is mostly diagnosed in its advanced stages. Dr. Arun Goel, Senior Consultant, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Vaishali says, this is primarily because the symptoms are usually not noticeable in the early stages. There are some early symptoms such as cough, sputum production, fatigue, etc., people often self-diagnose them as a seasonal issue. Further, many times when a diagnosis of tuberculosis is made in these cases and treatment of tuberculosis is started as tuberculosis is common in India. All these factors lead to delay in diagnosis.

There are many types of lung cancer but they are grouped in two categories: Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and Small cell lung cancer (SCLC). There are many different types of NSCLC but squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma are two of the commonest types.

What are the common symptoms of Lung Cancer?

The most common signs of lung cancer are as follows:

  • Persistent and/or worsening cough
  • Coughing up sputum or blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Weakness, tiredness, fatigue
  • Chest pain that worsens on breathing deeply or coughing
  • A headache, vomiting

What are The Causes of Lung Cancer?

Smoking: Any person can suffer from lung cancer, but 90% of the lung cancer cases are caused due to smoking. From the moment an individual inhales smoke, it starts damaging their lung tissues. The lungs can fix the damage, but continuous exposure to smoke makes it increasingly problematic for them to continue with the repair process. Once the cells are damaged, they begin to act abnormally, increasing the possibility of developing lung cancer. When a person stops smoking, the risk of lung cancer is lowered over time.

Exposure to Radon: Radon, which is a naturally existing radioactive gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer. When inhaled, these radioactive particles can hamper the cells that surround the lungs. Radon is known to enter buildings through small cracks present in the foundation. Smokers who are exposed to radon tend to have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.

Exposure to Asbestos: Inhaling hazardous substances over an extended period is known to cause lung cancer. Mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer that is almost always triggered by exposure to asbestos.

Inherited Genetic Mutations: Hereditary mutations are inherited from one of the parents and are present in every cell of the body throughout the life of an individual. These mutations increase the chances of developing lung cancer, mainly if an individual is a smoker or is exposed to other carcinogens.

Other Substances: Some other substances like arsenic, uranium, cadmium, nickel, chromium, and some petroleum products can also cause lung cancer. Many of these are present as pollutants in the air.

Sometimes, there is no apparent cause for developing lung cancer.

Stages of Lung Cancer

Cancer stages tell how far cancer has spread which helps in drafting the right treatment plan. The chances of effective treatment are more significant when lung cancer is diagnosed as well as treated in the early stages before it spreads. Since the symptoms of lung cancer are not evident in the early stages, diagnosis often comes after cancer has spread.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

The four main stages of non-small cell lung cancer are as follows:

Stage 1

 In stage 1, the disease is found in the lung, but it has not spread outside the lung.

Stage 2

 In this stage, the cancer is there in the lung as well as the nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 3

 In stage 3, the cancer is found in the lung and lymph nodes in the middle of the chest.

Stage 3A

In stage 3A, cancer spreads to lymph nodes, but only on the same side of the chest where cancer first started growing.

Stage 3B

In stage 3B, cancer spreads to lymph nodes above the collarbone or to the lymph nodes present on the opposite side of the chest.

Stage 4

In this stage, cancer spreads to both lungs, into the area surrounding the lungs, or to the nearby organs.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

The two main stages of small cell lung cancer are as follows:

Limited Stage

In this stage, cancer is found either in one of the lungs or in the nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest.

Extensive Stage

The extensive stage means cancer has spread from the affected lung to the other one and also to distant organs such as brain or liver. During diagnosis, two out of three individuals with small cell lung cancer are already in the extensive stage.

Lung cancer treatment options are based mainly on the stage of cancer. However, other factors, such as an individual’s overall health and lung function, as well as specific characters of cancer itself, are also crucial. 

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