Stages of Cancer

Cancer is the one disease that has a major impact on society. Some of the most common cancers are; breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, leukemia, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, melanoma of the skin, thyroid cancer, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, colon and rectum cancer, endometrial cancer, and pancreatic cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer is the leading cause of death in the world with an estimated 14 million new cases being recorded and up to 8.2 million cancer related deaths occurring on average worldwide. While statistical data is not directly applicable to individual patients, the stages of cancer are. Here, we are going to go through the various stages of cancer and explain what is cancer staging.

Cancer Staging

Staging helps doctors describe the location of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body, or is affecting other organs of the body. There are various tests that are conducted to determine what stage a cancer is at, which helps doctors plan treatment and predict the chances of recovery. While each individual’s situation is going to be different when it comes to cancer, people with the same stage of cancer tend to have similar outlooks (prognosis) and are often times treated in the same way. For instance, cancer that’s at an early stage may be conventionally treated with radiation or surgery, while cancer that’s at a more advance stage is treated with chemotherapy., BUT we here at Cancer Free Living have seen far better results by using NATURAL ALTERNATIVE CANCER TREATMENTS. Looking at the stage the cancer is in, doctors are able to predict the right course of action. That said, all cancers are not (or cannot be) staged. For instance, leukemia is cancer of the blood cells and spreads throughout the body, which means it cannot be staged in the same way that cancers which form tumors are.

When determining the extent of spread of cancer, the first thing doctors look at is the size of the tumor and its location, and whether it has grown into other nearby areas of the body. Lymph nodes are small bean shaped collections of immune cells, which many types of cancers spread to before reaching other organs or parts of the body.

Steps for Cancer Staging

Doctors can use different types of tests to find out the stage of the cancer. These tests can also include a physical exam, x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, PET scans and ultrasound. These tests give the doctor an idea of where the cancer is in the body and how much it has spread. The patient may also have to take a biopsy, which involves the removal of a part of a tumor to find out if its cancerous. The tests such as x-rays, CT scans and biopsies that are taken are done during the clinical staging process. The pathologic stage relies on the results of those exams and tests, as well as what is learned about the cancer during surgery. While the clinical stage is a key part of deciding the best treatment to use, the pathological or “surgical stage” begins once the surgery has been performed.

Types of Staging Systems

There are two main types of staging systems for cancer – the TNM system and the number system. These two systems make it easier for doctors to describe the size and spread of the tumor, it also makes it easier for them to compare between the particular cancer stage and research studies, and follow standardized guidelines for treatment.

The TNM Staging System

The Union for Cancer Control (UICC) and the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) use the TNM classification system as a tool for describing the different stages of cancer. The TNM system is updated every 6 to 8 years as science advances and new medical discoveries are made.

In the TNM classification system, each cancer is assigned a specific letter or number which describes the tumor, note or metastases. For instance:

  • T stands for the original tumor.
  • N stands for the nodes and tells whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes nearby
  • M stands for metastasis and tells whether a cancer has spread to any distant part(s) of the body.

Category ‘T’ provides information on the aspects of the original (primary) tumor, its size and how deeply it has grown into the organ that it started in.

The category ‘TX’ means the tumor cannot be measured.

The category ‘T0’ means that no evidence of a primary tumor has been found.

The category ‘Tis’ means that the cancerous cells are only growing on a superficial layer of the tissue, and is not growing deeper. This is also called ‘in situ’ cancer.

Any numbers that appear after the T such as T1, T2, T3, or T4 are used to describe the size of the tumor and the amount that it has spread to nearby tissues. The higher number indicates the size or amount the tumor has grown.

The category ‘N’ describes if a cancer has spread into any nearby lymph nodes.

The category ‘NX’ means that the lymph nodes are unable to be evaluated.

The category ‘N0’ means that the nearby lymph node does not contain any cancer cells.

The numbers that come after the N such as N1, N2 or N3 are used to describe the size, location and the number of lymph nodes that the cancer has infected. The higher the N number, the more the cancer has spread to any nearby lymph nodes.

The category ‘M’ tells whether a cancer has spread to distant areas of the body.

The category ‘M0’ is used to indicate that no distant spread of cancer was found.

The category ‘M1’ is used to indicate that the cancer has metastasized (spread) to distant parts of the body (organs or tissue)

Once the values for T, N, and M have been determined, they are combined to assign an overall stage.

The Number Staging System

The number staging system also uses the TNM system to divide the cancer into stages. Most cancer types have four stages that are numbered 1 to 4. The following is a brief summary of what the various stages of cancer means.

  • Stage 1 This normally means that the cancer is relatively small and contained within a single organ.
  • Stage 2 This means that the cancer has not begun to spread into the surrounding tissue, but the tumor does appear to be larger than at stage 1. This stage can also be an indicator that the cancer cells have spread into nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3 This means that the cancer is larger and has started to spread to surrounding areas, including nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4 At this stage the cancer has spread from where it begun to another part of the body. This stage is also known as metastatic or secondary cancer.

Doctors may also use the letters A, B and C to further divide the number categories (for example, stage 3B cervical cancer).

Other Cancer Staging Systems

The International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (FIGO) has a staging system for cancers of the female reproductive organs that is easy to convert to the TNM system.


Restaging is a term used to describe doing tests to find the extent of the cancer after treatment had been carried out. After these tests a new stage could be assigned, which is denoted with a lower-case ‘r’ before the new stage to note that it’s different from the original stage at diagnosis. It is important to note that the originally diagnosed stage always remains the same.

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