The Tumour, Node, Metastasis (TNM) system for classifying lung cancer is the cornerstone of modern lung cancer treatment and underpins comparative research; yet is continuously evolving through updated revisions. The recently published Union for International Cancer Control 7th Edition TNM Classification for lung cancer addresses many of its predecessor's shortcomings and has been subject to rigorous evidence-based methodology. It is based on a retrospective analysis of over 80 000 lung cancer patients treated between 1990 and 2000 carried out by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer. The dataset was truly international and included patients treated by all modalities. Extensive internal and external validation of the findings has ensured that the recommendations are robust and generalizable. For the first time, a single classification system has been shown to be applicable not only to non-small cell lung cancer, but also to be of prognostic significance in small cell lung cancer and bronchopulmonary carcinoid tumours.
We review the history of the Union for International Cancer Control TNM staging system, the changes in the most recent 7th edition and the strength of the scientific basis motivating these changes. Limitations of the current staging edition are explored, post-publication independent validation studies are reviewed, and the future of TNM staging for lung cancer is discussed.