What is the role of imaging studies in lung cancer staging?

Updated: Jan 28, 2019
  • Author: Omar Lababede, MD; Chief Editor: Eugene C Lin, MD  more...
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Cancer of the lung is the leading cause of cancer mortality in men and women in the United States. [1] Cancer staging, which defines the extent of disease, is crucial in guiding treatment and determining prognosis. Staging also facilitates the assessment of response to therapy, communication between cancer centers, and clinical research. [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]

Tumor, node, metastasis (TNM) staging is a consistent, reproducible description of cancers according to the extent of anatomic involvement. This system is based on defining the characteristics of the primary tumor (T), regional lymph node involvement (N), and the presence of distant metastases (M).

Imaging (especially computed tomography [CT], magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], and positron emission tomography [PET]) plays an important role in determining the pretreatment clinical staging (TNM or cTNM). CT of the chest alone is sufficient for stagin patients with pure ground glass opacities and an otherwise normal study, adn for patients with perpheral IA diease. Otherwise, PET/CT is recommended for patietns potentially eligible for curative treatment [13] . This clinical classification is a critical step in selecting and evaluating treatment. The pathological (postsurgical histopathological) classification (pTNM) is more precise in defining prognosis.

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