Lung Cancer Stage 1 Symptoms

Lung Cancer Stage 1 Symptoms
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Many readers are interested in the following topic: What are the symptoms for stage 1 lung cancer. We are happy to note, that our authors have already studied the modern research about the topic you are interested in. Based on the information provided in the latest medical digests, modern research and surveys, we provide extensive answer. Keep reading to find out more.

According to the American Cancer Society , a person may only require surgery for stage 1 NSCLC.

Understanding Stage 1 Lung Cancer

Cancer stages give information on how big the primary (original) tumor is and whether it has spread to local or distant parts of the body.

Most types of cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), are assigned number stages. NSCLC is one of the two major types of lung cancer. The other is small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

NSCLC is staged from 0 to 4. If the number is low, then it means the cancer has not spread very far.

SCLC only has two cancer stages: limited and extensive. Number stages are not used for SCLC. If a doctor diagnoses you with stage 1 lung cancer, then it means you have NSCLC. NSCLC is less aggressive than SCLC — and much more common.

In stage 1 lung cancer, the primary (original) tumor is no larger than 4 centimeters (cm). In addition, the cancer cells have not spread to the lymph nodes or distant parts of the body (such as other organs).

The TNM system is used to help categorize lung cancer:

  • T indicates the size and other features of the primary tumor.
  • N indicates if the cancer has reached the lymph nodes.
  • M indicates if the cancer has metastasized, or spread, to other parts of the body.

Once the TNM categories are assigned, the overall stage can be determined.

Stage 1 lung cancer is divided into four substages, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) :

  • Stage 1A1. There are two scenarios where a doctor may diagnose stage 1A1 lung cancer:
    • The tumor is 1 cm or smaller.
    • The tumor is an adenocarcinoma, which originates in lung cells that make mucus. It’s 3 cm or smaller. No more than 0.5 cm of the adenocarcinoma has moved into deeper lung tissues.
    • The tumor is between 3 and 4 cm.
    • The tumor has grown into one of the two main bronchi (airways), but it’s at least 2 cm away from the carina (the cartilage that divides the bronchi). The tumor is no larger than 4 cm.
    • The tumor has grown into the visceral pleura, the membrane that covers the lung. The tumor is no larger than 4 cm.
    • The tumor is partially blocking the airways, but it’s no larger than 4 cm.
    Stage of lung cancer TNM combination
    Stage 1A1 T1miN0M0 (for an adenocarcinoma)
    Stage 1A1 T1aN0M0 (for a tumor no greater than 1 cm)
    Stage 1A2 T1bN0M0
    Stage 1A3 T1cN0M0
    Stage 1B T2aN0M0

    Stage 1 lung cancer does not usually cause symptoms.

    If you experience any early symptoms, they may be mild and easy to ignore. In the early stages of lung cancer, symptoms can include:

    Contact a doctor if you have any concerns. This is especially crucial if you smoke or have other risk factors for lung cancer.

    Symptoms of advanced cancer

    A 2021 report from the ACS states that most lung cancer cases in the United States are not diagnosed until the cancer is considered regional or distant. This occurs in stages 3 and 4, which is when symptoms typically become noticeable.

    Symptoms of NSCLC can come on slowly for some people. According to a 2016 study , it can take 1 to 1.5 years for NSCLC to progress from the early to advanced stages in African Americans and Asian people. For white people, it can take under 1 year.

    Later-stage lung cancer may lead to symptoms such as:

    Lung cancer is a serious condition that can be challenging to diagnose in its earlier stages. However, researchers are working on more effective diagnostic tools to help detect lung cancer earlier. Early detection helps make treatment more effective.

    The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends annual screening with a low dose CT scan for people who meet all of the following criteria:

    • are between ages 50 and 80
    • have a history of at least 20 pack-years, which are years in which they smoked an average of 20 cigarettes (or one pack) per day
    • currently smoke or have quit in the last 15 years

    A low dose CT scan exposes you to less radiation than a traditional CT scan. It’s also more accurate than a chest X-ray, which was previously used to help screen for lung cancer. Learn more about lung cancer screening.

    The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program tracks cancer statistics in the United States.

    The SEER database does not group cancers according to the TNM system. Instead, it groups lung and bronchus cancers into these three stages:

    • Localized. Cancer is limited to one lung.
    • Regional. Cancer has moved from the lung to nearby lymph nodes or other nearby parts of the body.
    • Distant. Cancer has spread to the other lung or other distant parts of the body.

    Stage 1 lung cancer is considered localized. The 5-year relative survival rate, based on statistics from 2010 to 2016, is 63 percent for people with localized NSCLC.

    The relative survival rate is used to compare people with the same cancer type and stage to people in the population at large. This means that people with localized NSCLC are, on average, 63 percent as likely as people without NSCLC to live for at least 5 years after their cancer diagnosis.

    The three major forms of NSCLC are:

    The relative survival rates are higher for people with adenocarcinomas than they are for people with squamous cell carcinomas and large cell carcinomas .

    Making sense of survival rates

    Survival rates are only estimates, and your experience will be unique. Survival rates can be confusing, so speak with your doctor about your specific circumstances.

    Your individual outlook will depend on many things, such as:

    • the particular type of lung cancer you have, including which genetic mutations are involved
    • whether you have other serious health conditions
    • the treatments you choose and how well they work for you

    Your treatment options depend on a number of factors, including:

    • the type of lung cancer you have
    • which genetic mutations are involved
    • your general health, including other medical conditions
    • your age

    Once you finish with treatment, it will take some time to fully recover. Afterward, you’ll still need regular checkups and follow-up testing so your doctor can look for evidence of recurrence. Recurrence is cancer that comes back after you’ve had treatment and were considered to be cancer-free.


    You’ll most likely need surgery to remove the cancerous part of your lung. This surgery may include removing nearby lymph nodes to check for cancer cells. It’s possible that you will not need any other treatment.

    If you’re at high risk of recurrence, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy after surgery.

    Chemotherapy involves the use of powerful drugs that can destroy cancer cells near the surgical site or those that may have broken free of the original tumor. For people with NSCLC, it’s usually administered intravenously (IV) in cycles of 3 to 4 weeks .

    If surgery is not a suitable option for you, radiation therapy or radiofrequency ablation may be used as your primary treatment.

    Radiation therapy

    Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It’s a painless procedure that’s typically performed 5 days a week for several weeks. Though it’s usually pain-free, there may be side effects. Your doctor can help you determine how to manage them.

    Radiation therapy is also sometimes used as a secondary treatment to destroy cancer cells that may have been left behind after surgery.

    Radiofrequency ablation

    Radiofrequency ablation uses high energy radio waves to heat the tumor. Guided by imaging scans, a small probe is inserted through the skin and into the tumor. Radiofrequency ablation can be performed under local anesthesia as an outpatient procedure.

    Did you know?

    Targeted drug therapies and immunotherapies are generally reserved for later stage or recurrent (returning) lung cancer.

    Symptom management

    In addition to treating the lung cancer, your doctor can help treat individual symptoms. There are a variety of medications to help control coughing, such as cough syrups. Experts also recommend treating any underlying conditions that may be contributing to your cough.

    There are also a few things you can do on your own when you feel short of breath:

    • Change your positioning. Leaning forward makes it easier to breathe.
    • Concentrate on your breathing. Focus on the muscles that control your diaphragm. Purse your lips and breathe in rhythm.
    • Try to relax. Anxiety can add to the problem, so choose a relaxing activity such as listening to your favorite music or meditating to keep calm.
    • Take a break. If you try to power through, you’ll overexert yourself and make matters worse. Save your energy for the most important tasks, or ask someone else to pitch in when possible.

    What are the symptoms for stage 1 lung cancer?

    In stage 1 lung cancer, people usually do not experience symptoms. When they do, the most common symptoms include shortness of breath, a persistent cough, and coughing up blood or blood-stained phlegm.

    Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. Approximately 6.3% of adults in the United States will receive a lung cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.

    There are two main forms of lung cancer, which are:

    • Non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC): This accounts for more than 87% of cases. There are three types, which include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large-cell carcinoma.
    • Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC): This is a less common form that tends to spread faster than NSCLC.

    This article will outline the symptoms of stage 1 lung cancer, the treatment options available, and when a person should seek medical help.

    A man wearing a green jumper and coughing as he may have symptoms of stage 1 lung cancer.

    People with stage 1 lung cancer may not have any symptoms at all.

    According to a 2020 article , by the time symptoms develop, the cancer can be quite advanced.

    As a result, healthcare professionals may only discover that a person has lung cancer during an x-ray or other scan for a different reason.

    Some people with stage 1 lung cancer will notice symptoms, but they vary from person to person.

    The common symptoms of lung cancer include:

    • shortness of breath when doing daily tasks
    • persistent cough that has not disappeared after 2–3 weeks
    • coughing up blood or blood-stained mucus

    Additional symptoms of lung cancer include:

    • appetite loss
    • weight loss
    • general fatigue
    • shoulder, chest, or back pain
    • hoarse voice
    • harsh sounds with each breath, or stridor
    • recurrent lung problems, such as bronchitis or pneumonia

    Additionally, the British Lung Foundation notes that if the tumor has spread outside the lungs, the first symptoms may not come from the chest. These symptoms may include:

    • pain in the back
    • bone pain
    • confusion
    • swallowing difficulties
    • nerve or brain damage that can affect talking, walking, memory, or behavior
    • jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and eyes

    However, at this point, the lung cancer may have progressed to later stages.

    Most lung cancers do not cause symptoms until they have spread.

    Symptoms usually develop slowly after the lung cancer has been growing for some time. This results in a majority of patients with lung cancer having advanced disease by the time they see a doctor.

    An early diagnosis of lung cancer is important. A person should contact a doctor if they experience any symptoms of lung cancer.

    The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly screening for lung cancer for those who:

    • have smoked an average of at least 20 packs of cigarettes in a year
    • currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years
    • are aged between 50–80

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that most insurance plans and Medicare will help to cover the costs for recommended screening tests.

    Health insurance policies should cover lung cancer screening tests without a co-pay or a deductible.

    According to Cancer Research UK, stage 1 lung cancer is divided into two sub-stages:

    • Stage 1A: The cancer is 3 centimeters (cm) or smaller.
    • Stage 1B: The cancer is between 3 cm and 4 cm. At stage 1B, the cancer might also be growing into:
      • the main airway of the lung, or main bronchus.
      • the membrane covering the lung, or visceral pleura.

      At stage 1B, the cancer might also block the airway, causing the lung to partly or completely collapse.

      Treatment options for stage 1 lung cancer depend on:

      • the primary type of lung cancer
      • the location
      • a person’s general health and age
      • other health conditions a person may have

      If a person smokes, a healthcare professional will encourage them to quit before treatment begins.

      Research has found that those who quit smoking after receiving a diagnosis have better outcomes than those who do not.

      Treatment for stage 1 NSCLC

      According to the American Cancer Society , a person may only require surgery for stage 1 NSCLC.

      Surgeons will assess a person’s overall health before deciding on an appropriate treatment.

      A surgeon may perform the following procedures:

      • a pneumonectomy, which is the removal of the entire lung
      • a lobectomy, which is the removal of the lobe that contains the tumor
      • a sleeve resection, segmentectomy, or wedge resection, which is the removal of a smaller piece of the lung

      A surgeon may also remove some lymph nodes in the lung and in the space between the lungs to check for cancer.

      After surgery, a person may undergo chemotherapy, which can lower the chance of cancer returning.

      If surgery is not an option, a person may undergo:

      • radiotherapy
      • radiofrequency ablation
      • stereotatic body radiation therapy

      Treatment for stage 1 SCLC

      Healthcare professionals typically recommend chemotherapy to treat stage 1 SCLC. If the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, a person can undergo radiotherapy alongside the chemotherapy.

      Surgery is a rare option, but may be appropriate if the cancer is small and has not spread.

      According to the American Cancer Society , the 5-year relative survival rates for lung cancer compare people with the same type and stage of cancer to people in the overall population.

      For example, if the 5-year survival rate is 40%, this means people with that type of cancer are 40% as likely as someone who does not have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after receiving a lung cancer diagnosis.

      The survival rate also depends on how far the cancer has spread:

      • Localized: This means that the cancer has not spread outside of the lung.
      • Regional: This means that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or areas nearby.
      • Distant: This means that cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, bones, brain, or other lung.

      Based on people diagnosed with lung cancer between 2010 and 2016, the 5-year survival rates in those categories, which are different than stages, are as follows :

      Stage NSCLC SCLC
      Localized 63% 27%
      Regional 35% 16%
      Distant 7% 3%
      All of the stages combined: 25% 7%

      A 2017 article notes that if a healthcare professional diagnoses NSCLC at stage 1, the 5-year survival rate is 70–90% . At this point, the tumor will be small and localized.

      SCLC is more aggressive and the window for treatment is small. However, if a diagnoses occurs at stage 1, surgery may still be beneficial. A 2016 study found that the survival rate for stage 1 SCLC is 40%, and 52% if a person undergoes surgery alongside chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

      These rates change as treatments improve. A healthcare professional can provide more information on a person’s survival rates.

      Initially, a healthcare professional will discuss a person’s medical history and ask about the symptoms they have been experiencing.

      A doctor may then order initial imaging tests, such as an x-ray.

      If a chest X-ray suggests a person has lung cancer, the next step towards diagnosis is to have a CT scan or a PET scan. A CT scan uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images inside the body. A lung positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that uses a radioactive substance, called a tracer, to look for diseases in the lungs such as lung cancer. Unlike CT scans, which mainly evaluate the structure of the lungs, a PET scan shows how well the lungs and their tissues are working.

      If a CT or PET scan suggests that cancer is present in the lung, a person may be offered a bronchoscopy or a CT scan-guided biopsy depending on the location and accessibility of the suspicious area in the lung. Bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows a doctor to see inside a person’s airways and remove a small sample of cells, known as a biopsy. A biopsy can show if cancerous cells are growing in that location and what type they are.

      Usually, the patient’s case is present to a multidisciplinary lung tumor board to determine the best and safe way to start the evaluation, obtain tissue, and initiate treatment.

      People do not typically experience symptoms in stage 1 lung cancer. By the time a person notices symptoms, their cancer may have reached more advanced stages.

      However, people should seek medical help if they experience shortness of breath, a persistent cough, or coughing up blood or blood-tinged phlegm.

      Last medically reviewed on April 21, 2021