Sign in

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: Understanding the Most Common Form of Lung Cancer

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: Understanding the Most Common Form of Lung Cancer

Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is typically staged using the TNM system, which evaluates the size of the tumor (T), whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes (N), and whether cancer has metastasized or spread to other parts of the body (M). The main stages of NSCLC are:

Stage I. The cancer is contained within the lung and has not spread to lymph nodes or other organs. Stage I is further broken down into stages IA and IB based on tumor size.

Stage II. The cancer may be larger but still contained within the lung and lymph node(s) near the lung. Stage II is further broken down into stages IIA and IIB based on tumor size and location and number of lymph nodes involved.

Stage III. Stage III involves cancer that has spread more extensively within the lung or to nearby lymph nodes or structures in the chest. Stage III is further broken down into stages IIIA and IIIB based on tumor size, location, and lymph node involvement.

Stage IV. The most advanced stage, stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer  involves cancer that has metastasized or spread to other organs such as the brain, bones, liver, or other distant lymph nodes.

Types of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

There are three main types of NSCLC: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma makes up about 40% of lung cancer cases and usually occurs in outer parts of the lung. Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for about 30% of lung cancer cases and often occurs in the central part of the lung near the windpipe. Large cell carcinoma comprises about 10-15% of lung cancer cases and can occur in any part of the lung.

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Some of the main risk factors for developing NSCLC include cigarette smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke or other carcinogens like radon and asbestos, a personal history of lung disease, and a family history of lung cancer. Early stage NSCLC often doesn't cause any symptoms, but once the cancer grows symptoms may include a persistent cough, coughing up blood, chest pain, breathlessness, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis.

Testing and Diagnosis

If an individual exhibits possible symptoms of lung cancer, their doctor will likely perform diagnostic tests like a chest x-ray, CT scan, or PET scan to investigate further. If abnormal areas are detected on imaging scans, a biopsy may be performed. In a biopsy, a small sample of the suspicious lung tissue or lymph nodes is removed and examined under a microscope to identify cancer cells and determine the specific type of lung cancer. Blood tests and additional scans of the brain, bones or other organs may also be done to help stage the cancer.

Treatment Options

Treatment for NSCLC depends on the stage and type of cancer, as well as the patient's age, health, and preferences. Common treatment options may include:

- Surgery - For early stage NSCLC, surgery to remove part or all of the lung(s) is often the main treatment approach if the person is healthy enough. The type of surgery depends on the size and location of the tumor.

- Chemotherapy - Use of anti-cancer drugs that work throughout the body to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given alone or combined with other treatments like radiation.

- Radiation therapy - High-energy rays are used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be delivered via external beam therapy or radioactive implants.

- Targeted therapy - Drugs that target specific gene mutations driving cancer growth in some patients. These include EGFR inhibitors, ALK inhibitors, immunotherapy drugs, and angiogenesis inhibitors.

- Palliative care - Focuses on relieving symptoms and improving quality of life for advanced or metastatic NSCLC when a cure may no longer be possible. May include radiation, pain medications, oxygen therapy.

Prognosis and Outlook

The outlook for NSCLC depends greatly on the stage at diagnosis as well as other factors. For localized stage I NSCLC caught early through screening, the 5-year survival rate can be as high as 80-90% after surgery. However, the majority of NSCLC cases are diagnosed at later stages, and the 5-year survival rate for stage IV NSCLC is unfortunately about 1%. Still, with advances in treatments, many individuals diagnosed with NSCLC can find relief of symptoms and live with the disease for several years or more. Overall, continued screening and research aims to increase early detection and improve survival outcomes.


Get more insights on This Topic- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Zupyak is the world’s largest content marketing community, with over 400 000 members and 3 million articles. Explore and get your content discovered.
Read more