Staging Lung Cancer & Mutation Testing

An important test is to find out the staging of your cancer. Staging involves a variety of tests that can help show your doctors how advanced the tumor is by its size and the kind of cell it is.

The TNM staging system is used for most types of cancer. It gives your doctor critical information to help determine your prognosis and the right treatment for you.

Tumor size
T stands for the main tumor's size and how far it extends
Lymph nodes
N represents how far it reaches to any lymph nodes that are close by
Other tumors
M describes any other tumors caused by spreading cancer cells

A number from 0 to 4 (Roman numbers I, II, III, IV) is added to each letter to describe the size of the main tumor and degree of cancer spread.

The TNM combinations indicate what stage your tumor is. This information helps the doctor prepare you for what needs to be done next. Always ask him or her questions if you have any. The more you understand, the more you can partner with your doctor. Here are general descriptions of stage grouping and what they mean.

Stage groupings

Stage 0

The cancer hasn't spread to other tissues and is still within the lining of the lung.

Stage I

Cancer can be surgically removed. The tumor has not spread to any lymph nodes and is less than 5 cm wide.

Stage II

The tumors are slightly larger and may or may not have spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the lung. Surgery may help. Other treatments may be necessary.

Stage III

Tumor(s) may have spread to the outside of the lung and/or into one or more lymph nodes. Surgery may not be possible to remove the cancer. Other treatments will likely be needed.

Stage IV

The cancer has spread well beyond the lung. It's throughout the body into other organs and the bloodstream. Surgery may not be an option.

Partnering with your healthcare team at this stage is critical. It can help you navigate through information that can feel overwhelming. Ask to find out what type and stage of lung cancer you have and what it means.

Know your mutation

It's also important to know the mutation of your lung cancer. This can help you and your doctor decide which treatment is right for you. There are many types of lung cancers and it can all be very confusing, so don't hesitate to ask questions.

  • EGFR+
  • ALK+
  • KRAS+

These are three of the most common lung tumor mutations. Mutation testing (also known as molecular profiling) is testing done by a biopsy of the cancer cells. It's important to know the mutation of your lung cancer, so be sure to ask your doctor [Where to Get Tested?].


If you've been diagnosed with lung cancer, it can be frightening. It's natural to wonder "how long do I have?" No one can accurately tell how long a person will live with lung cancer. Your prognosis, or future health, may depend on several factors. These include the type of cancer, the stage, and response to course of treatment. It can be frustrating if you feel that you're not getting the answers you're looking for in terms of expected prognosis. But the truth is, your healthcare team cannot predict how long you'll live with lung cancer. Continue to partner with them to feel comfortable with your treatment plan. And do all you can to stay positive and make the most of every day.

The 5-year survival rate

You may hear the doctor mention a 5-year survival rate. This statistic depends on a person's cancer stage. It refers to the percentage of people alive 5 years after being diagnosed.