What does it mean when a cancer is staged? The term “stage” refers to the progression of the disease. Despite the eventual progression or remission of the disease, the initial stage given at diagnosis stays the same. Doctors simply add information to the first staging to record changes in the patient’s cancer. The five ways physicians stage lung cancer can vary depending on whether it is a small cell lung cancer or a non-small cell lung cancer, but there are several items that stay the same no matter what type of lung cancer is diagnosed.
General Process of Diagnosis
-A family practice or general practitioner can set up initial testing when a lung abnormality is suspected. However, once a suspicious diagnosis has been acknowledged a patient will need to see an oncologist.
-An oncologist is a physician who specializes in treating cancers. If any other specialists such as intervention radiologists or hospitalist are needed, the oncologist will make those referrals for you.
-While your cancer is being treated, patients should still see their family physician to discuss any medical conditions they suffered from before the cancer diagnosis.
Clinical Staging of Lung Cancer includes:
-A physical exam by a physician.
-Biopsies ordered by a physician.
-Imaging tests, which include CT scans, chest X-rays, PET scans and similar radiologic diagnostic testing that was ordered by a physician. Some of these tests may be ordered to rule out progression of the disease.
-Most patients have this type of staging done regarding their lung cancer, but others must have pathological staging as well.
Pathological Staging of Lung Cancer includes:
-Everything included in the Clinical Staging process.
-In addition to the Clinical Staging, further evidence that physicians find while doing an exploratory surgery is added to this type of staging.
-This type of staging is considered by many professionals to be the most accurate, but because not all patients are well enough to have surgery when they are diagnosed, it is not used exclusively.
TNM Staging System is:
-A difficult-to-understand medical process where letters are assigned to lung tumors.
-The letter T indicates the size of the primary tumor.
-The letter N describes whether or not nearby lymph nodes have been affected.
-The letter M describes whether or not the cancer has spread or metastasized to other areas of the patient’s body.
-Doctors refer to these often as they monitor the patient’s care.
Stage Grouping for lung cancer:
-Once the TNM staging process is completed, a number between 0 and 4 is assigned to the type of lung cancer. This number is associated with the severity of the cancer and stays the same even if the severity of the cancer changes.
-The lower the number, the less severe the disease is. If an X is associated with the TMN it means that there is missing information.
Determining if the cancer is limited or extensive:
-In order to treat the cancer effectively, your doctor must know if the cancer only affects the lungs, and whether it is a small cell cancer or a non-small cell cancer.
-If the cancer has only affected one lung it is considered to be in the limited stage.
-If the cancer has moved to nearby areas of the body, or the lymph nodes, it is considered to be in the extensive stage.