After your doctor knows which type of lung cancer you have — small cell or non-small cell — the next step is to identify how far the cancer has spread, called the stage. To determine this, you may need to have one or more imaging tests, including:

  • CT scans of the chest and possibly the abdomen and pelvis
  • an MRI scan of the head
  • a PET/CT scan of the body between the neck and thighs

You may need other tests or procedures depending on your symptoms and the location of the cancer.

After your doctors know how far the cancer has spread, they will determine the stage of the disease. Staging takes into account:

  • the size and location of the original tumor (also called the primary tumor)
  • whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other organs in the body

Staging is a critical step in choosing the best treatment for you. The stage of your cancer stays the same throughout your course of treatment.

4 Stages of Lung Cancer

Stage I — The cancer developed in and is confined to one lung.

Stages II and III — The cancer developed in one lung but has spread to nearby chest structures or lymph glands.

Stage IV— The cancer has spread from one lung to the other or to another organ like the bones, brain, liver, or adrenal gland (a hormone-releasing organ that sits on top of the kidney).