Almost all of non-small cell lung cancers start as small nodules. Nodules undetected or neglected at this stage grow to become invasive cancers. Cancers larger than 3 cm are classified as masses.
Lung cancers can sometimes appear like small nodules (Figure 1)
or even like small pneumonias which are named as ground glass opacities (Figure 2).
When cancer gets bigger, spiculations start to appear and the mass becomes irregular shaped (Figure 3).
3 cm is a critical size for lung cancer. Early lung cancers are less then 3 cm and those that have not spread to lymph nodes or elsewhere.
Main treatment method for early stage lung cancers is removal of the piece of the involved lung and adjacent lymph nodes. The name of this procedure is lobectomy (Figure 4).
If the tumor is smaller than 1 cm, we remove a smaller part of the lung and this procedure is named segmentectomy. In all of these procedures, removal of intrathoracic lymph nodes is required.
All of these operations can be performed through a 3-4 cm incision as a minimally invasive surgery (Figure 5).
Such an approach has much less pain and recuperation is faster (Video 1).
If the patient is too risky for surgery, radiation treatment for tumor is very effective as well and this method is named stereotactic beam radiation (SBRT).
In early stage lung cancers, other than special situations no adjuvant treatment or chemotherapy are applied. Surgical resection is usually adequate.