Signs and Symptoms of Stage 3 Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

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Non-small cell lung cancer, also called NSCLC, makes up between 80% to 85% of all lung cancers in the United States. There are different subtypes of this type of cancer. The remaining cases fall under the category of small cell lung cancer. The earlier cancers are detected, the better the chances of treatment to slow or stop the disease progress. However, many early lung cancer symptoms are not obvious and the disease may only be detected once you start showing stage 3 lung cancer symptoms.

What is non-small cell lung cancer?

The three main types of non-small cell lung cancer are:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma, which is found in thecells in the tissue that forms the lungs’ surface. This type of cancer makes up about 30% of all non-small cell lung cancers.

  • Adenocarcinoma makes up another 30% to 35% of non-small cell lung cancers and affects the cells in the outer regions of the lung.

  • Large-cell undifferentiated carcinoma is rarer than the first two, making up about 10% to 15% of cases, and can be found in any part of the lung.

Staging of Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

Cancer is staged according to how far it has progressed. The stages start at 0 and go to 4. The higher the number, the farther the cancer has spread in the body.  To stage the cancer, oncologists look at:

  • How large the tumor is and if it’s still within the lung tissue or if it has grown into nearby organs or body tissue
  • If cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes and if so, how many lymph nodes are affected

  • If the cancer has metastasized (spread) through the body to other organs or body parts, such as the brain, liver or bones

About a third of people diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer are at stage 3. The cancer cells have also spread to the lymph nodes, although usually only on the same side as the affected lung. The cancer cells will also have spread to some other structures in the body.

Staying Strong With Lung Cancer

Signs and Symptoms

Most often, non-small cell lung cancer is detected only after the cancer has spread because the most signs of lung cancer can be mistaken for other respiratory problems. Therefore, you may have had a long, lingering cough or wheezing for a while before you underwent testing. On the other hand, sometimes lung cancer is detected earlier by accident, when people undergo tests for other health problems.

The most common signs and symptoms of stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer include:

Non-small cell lung cancer progression is treatable.

Advanced lung cancer like stage 3 can be difficult to treat. The tumors can’t usually be removed entirely by surgery, as they have spread to other parts of the body. However, treatments are available that may help relieve symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. There are also clinical trials that are looking for better ways to treat stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer, extending life while helping patients maintain a comfortable quality of life. Speak with your oncologist about your treatment options so you can work together to manage your disease.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Jul 4
  1. What Is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer? American Cancer Society.
  2. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version.
    National Cancer Institute. Part of the National Institutes of Health.
  3. Non-small
    cell lung cancer. Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
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