Stages and types of lung cancer

The stage of a cancer tells you how big it is and whether it has spread. The type tells which type of cell the cancer started from.

Knowing the stage and type can help doctors plan your treatment.

The staging systems used for lung cancer can seem complicated. Ask your doctor as many questions as you need to in as much detail as you find helpful at this point. Lung cancer specialists are used to explaining things in more detail so it is easier to understand.

For support and help understanding information on lung cancer stages and types you can call our Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040. They are happy to help. Lines are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

Stages of lung cancer

The stage of a cancer tells you how big it is and whether it has spread. Doctors use the TNM or number staging systems to stage lung cancer. They might also use limited and extensive stages to stage small cell lung cancer.

Types of lung cancer

There are 2 main groups of primary lung cancer, namely small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The most common type is non small cell lung cancer.

TNM staging for lung cancer

TNM system stands for Tumour, Node and Metastasis. It is the most common way to stage lung cancer. Doctors may also use the number system.

Limited and extensive stage (small cell lung cancer)

Limited disease and extensive disease is a way of describing small cell lung cancer.

Stage 1 lung cancer

Stage 1 means your cancer is small. It hasn’t spread to your lymph nodes or other distant organs. Number staging systems use the TNM system to divide cancers into stages.

Stage 2 lung cancer

Find out what stage 2 lung cancer means and about treatments.

Stage 3 lung cancer

Find out what stage 3 lung cancer means and about treatments. Stage 3 non small cell lung cancer is also called locally advanced lung cancer.

Stage 4 lung cancer

Stage 4 is part of the number staging system. It means that the cancer has spread from the lungs. It is also called advanced lung cancer.

Last reviewed: 
30 Dec 2022
Next review due: 
30 Dec 2025
Coronavirus and cancer

We know it’s a worrying time for people with cancer, we have information to help.

Read our information about coronavirus and cancer