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Small Cell and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Like most cancers, lung cancer can be divided into additional categories defined largely by how fast or slow the cancer spreads beyond the lungs. The two major classifications for lung cancer are small cell or non-small cell, both of which are treated differently. By far, the majority of lung cancer cases, (8 out of every 10) are non-small cell. Non-small cell lung cancer usually grows and spreads much more slowly than small cell lung cancer.

After the cancer has been identified as small cell or non-small cell, the next step is to assess the cancer stage. This is crucial information as it informs your doctor’s recommendations as to treatment options and next steps for patients.

Download and take this staging chart with you to your doctor to discuss your cancer and treatment options.

Small Cell Lung Cancer Classifications

The diagnosis of small cell lung cancer is either defined as limited or extensive. If it is limited, the cancer has spread to only one lung, the tissue between the lungs and/or nearby lymph nodes. If it is extensive, that means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. If surgery is determined to be a treatment option, it is usually performed with a combination of treatments including chemotherapy or radiation.

Tumor Types and Staging for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancers typically spread to different parts of the body more slowly than small cell lung cancer. Once a patient is diagnosed, doctors will determine the stage of a non-small cell cancer with the use of a TNM system that assigns the cancer to one of five stages, dependent on the following criteria:

  • Size of the tumor
  • Whether the tumor has spread to regional lymph nodes
  • Whether the tumor has spread farther (metastasized)

The size of the tumor, lymph node involvement and potential spread of the tumor all influence the effectiveness of therapies. Using the TNM staging system, your doctor will determine the most appropriate course of treatment for your lung cancer condition.

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