What is Stage 3 Lung Cancer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Stage 3 lung cancer is a large tumor that has begun to invade surrounding tissues in the chest. It is divided into two forms, 3a and 3b, reflecting the level of spread. Patients should be aware they may encounter this term written as stage three lung cancer or stage III lung cancer. Generally the prognosis for patients with cancer this advanced is poor, although with management patients may experience a good quality of life for some time before succumbing to the tumor.

Cancer staging involves determining the size of a tumor, the level of lymph involvement, and the amount of metastasis. In the case of lung cancer, tumors are assigned a score between one and four when the cancer is diagnosed. This score is used to determine the course of treatment, with the goal of providing care appropriate for the patient's needs. Around one third of lung cancer patients have stage 3 lung cancer at the time of diagnosis.


In stage 3a lung cancer, the tumor has started to spread to the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest along with the bronchial passages. Stage 3b lung cancer has jumped to the other side of the chest, involving more of the airway along with lymph nodes in the upper chest. The approach to treatment will vary depending on the specifics and the patient's general level of health. Aggressive treatment for a 25 year old with stage 3a lung cancer would be recommended, while an 80 year old with stage 3b lung cancer might be given palliative care only.

Treatment options for stage 3 lung cancer include surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible, if a surgeon thinks it is resectable, followed with chemotherapy to suppress the further growth of the cancer. Some patients may be offered chemotherapy and radiation alone for cancer treatment. If a patient cannot tolerate chemotherapy, radiation can be used to control the cancer as much as impossible while the patient is provided with pain management and supportive care.

When diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer, patients should find out which subtype is involved and discuss the prognosis with their doctors. A second opinion can be valuable. One important thing to be aware of is that patients with stage 3 lung cancer are generally considered candidates for clinical trials, as their cancer is more advanced. This can provide people with access to treatments not yet available to the general public. These treatments may improve quality of life or extend life and they can also provide valuable information for researchers working on lung cancer care. In addition, expenses associated with the treatment are paid by pharmaceutical companies, reducing costs for cancer treatment.



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