Stage 3 Lung Cancer Symptoms and Outlook

Written by Treacy Colbert | Published on September 19, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on September 19, 2013

Diagnosis Often Occurs at Stage 3

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. It takes more lives than breast, prostate, and colon cancer combined, according to the CDC. In approximately 40 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer, the disease has reached an advanced state at the time of diagnosis, and one third have reached stage 3. Read more to learn about symptoms, prognosis, and treatment for this stage of non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common type of the disease.

Stage 3 Categories

When lung cancer reaches stage 3, it has spread from the lungs to other nearby tissue or far away lymph nodes. The broad category of stage 3 lung cancer is divided into two further groups, stage 3A and stage 3B. Both stage 3A and stage 3B are broken into additional subsections depending on tumor size, location, and lymph node involvement.

Stage 3A: One Side of the Body

Stage 3A lung cancer is considered locally advanced. This means the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the primary lung tumor, but not to distant areas in the body. The main bronchus, lung lining, chest wall lining, chest wall, diaphragm, or membrane around the heart may be involved. There be metastasis to the heart blood vessels, the trachea, the esophagus, the nerve governing the voice box, the chest bone or backbone, or the carina, which is the area where the trachea joins the bronchi.

Stage 3B: Spread to the Opposite Side

Stage 3B lung cancer is more advanced. The disease has spread to lymph nodes above the collarbone or to the nodes on the opposite side of the chest from the site of the primary lung tumor.  Like stage 3A, stage 3B cancer may have spread to other chest structures. Part or all of the lung may become inflamed or collapse.

Symptoms

Early stage lung cancer may produce no visible symptoms. There may be noticeable symptoms, such as a new, persistent, lingering cough, or a change in a smoker’s cough (deeper, more frequent, produces more mucus or blood), which may indicate that the cancer has progressed to stage 3. Other symptoms to look out for include:

  • trouble breathing, being winded or short of breath
  • pain in chest area
  • wheezing sound when breathing
  • voice changes (more hoarse)
  • unexplained drop in weight
  • bone pain (may be in the back and may feel worse at night)
  • headache

Outlook

Survival rate refers to the percentage of patients who live at least five years after diagnosis. Scientists look at data of patients treated at least five years ago. They then calculate the rate of survival based on the cancer stage at time of diagnosis.  According to American Cancer Society data derived from a database of people diagnosed between 1998 and 2000, stage 3A lung cancer has a 14 percent five-year survival rate. Stage 3B lung cancer has a five percent five-year survival rate.  

Treatment

Stage 3 lung cancer options include surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Surgery alone is generally not indicated for stage 3B. Your doctor may recommend radiation and/or chemotherapy if the lung tumor cannot be operated on. Treatment with radiation and chemotherapy, either at the same time or sequentially, is associated with improved stage 3B survival rates compared with radiation-only treatment, according to the National Cancer Institute.

To Keep in Mind

Stage 3 lung cancer is treatable. Everyone is different, and there is no precise way to predict how any individual will respond to treatment. Age and overall health are important factors in to how well people respond to lung cancer treatment. Lung cancer clinical trials may offer an opportunity to participate in an investigation of a new treatment. These new treatments may not offer a cure, but they have the potential to ease symptoms and extend life. 

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