stage 3 lung cancer definition and treatments
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What is stage 3 lung cancer and how is it treated?

Stage 3 lung cancer refers to a condition where the cancer has affected the lung tissues, the lymph nodes within the lung as well as lymph nodes outside the lung area. In contrast, stage 1 lung cancer is that which affects only the lung tissues while stage 2 lung cancer affects both lung tissues and lymph nodes inside the lung.

In stage 3 lung cancer, the disease has not spread to other parts of the body. If it has so spread, it would be classified as stage 4 lung cancer, which is the most advanced phase of the disease.

There are three classifications to stage 3 lung cancer.

1. The first group consists of those who have obvious symptoms of stage 3 disease -- enlarged, abnormal appearing lymph nodes that are easily detectable on CT scans and chest x-rays.

2. The second group consists of patients whose lymph nodes present a normal appearance. However, these nodes are nevertheless cancerous and this is confirmed through endoscopic examination of the chest cavity.

3. Lastly, there are those who have Stage 3b lung cancer. Their tumors have a variety of sizes. In addition, they have malignant growths in lymph nodes in locations like the upper ribs, the entry/exit point of vessels in the lungs, the tracheal ridge, etc.

Patients who fall into the first group and have obvious abnormalities in the lymph nodes are generally not good candidates for surgical treatment. The abnormal nodes have cancer in a majority of cases. These patients are often treated using a combination that involves chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Now, these treatments may be administered sequentially (one after the other) or concurrently (together). There is some research evidence showing that concurrent treatment is generally more effective than sequential treatment. The downside of concurrent treatment is that the patients usually report greater side effects from the treatment.

The effectiveness of surgery done after radiation / chemotherapy treatment is still debated -- there is no conclusive evidence about this.

The second group of patients whose lymph nodes appear normal sometimes find surgery to be a useful treatment. Tumor resection is done in many such cases. This is performed after tests reveal the presence of cancer within the lymph nodes.

Some doctors prefer to use a combination of chemotherapy and radiation treatment or chemotherapy alone before surgery. If the patient responds well to this pre-operative treatment, surgery is done to remove remaining cancerous masses. In many patients, such pre-operative treatment is likely to produce a better result than surgery performed alone.

Certain types of clinical trials may prove useful to these patients with stage 3 lung cancer.

In contrast, surgery usually does not help the third group of patients, those who have stage 3b lung cancer. Some of these patients are found to have fluids that are free from cancerous cells. These patients, who are said to have non-cancerous effusion, may find a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy useful. Whether the treatment should be concurrent or sequential is to be decided between the patient and the doctor, depending on the response and comfort level experienced by the patient.

Sadly, patients who have cancerous effusion usually have a life expectancy of only less than a year. They should consider whether comfort care alone is sufficient or if they should go in for chemotherapy.

Stage 3 lung cancer is an advanced stage of the disease. Nevertheless, some patients with this type of lung cancer may find current treatment methods useful in increasing life expectancy. Here's more more about lung cancer stages and what they imply.


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