WHAT DO CAN­CER ‘STAGES’ MEAN?

C.A.R.E. - - Cancer -

The process of find­ing out­whether can­cer has spread and if so, how far, is called “stag­ing.” Clin­i­cal stag­ing is an es­ti­mate of the ex­tent of can­cer based on phys­i­cal exam, biopsy re­sults, imag­ing tests and is es­sen­tial in de­ter­min­ing how it will be treated.

The “TNM stag­ing sys­tem,” which is used most of­ten, is typ­i­cally based on three key pieces of in­for­ma­tion. T refers to the main tu­mor (its size and/or whether it has grown into nearby ar­eas). N de­scribes whether the can­cer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. M shows whether the can­cer has *metas­ta­sized to other or­gans of the body.

Let­ters and/or num­bers af­ter the T, N and Mgive more de­tails about each of th­ese fac­tors. Tomake this in­for­ma­tion clearer, the TNM de­scrip­tions can be grouped to­gether into a sim­pler set of stages, la­beled with Ro­man nu­mer­als (usu­ally from I to IV). In gen­eral, the lower the num­ber, the less the can­cer has spread. A higher num­ber means a more ad­vanced can­cer.

Stage 0

is can­cer in which can­cer­ous cells have not in­vaded neigh­bor­ing tis­sue. Some can­cers never progress be­yond this stage.

Stage I

is lo­cal­ized can­cer, in­which a sin­gle tu­mor has crossed the can­cer­ous cell’s mem­brane.

Stage II

is can­cer in which the tu­mor has spread to nearby tis­sue but has not spread to lymph nodes.

Stage III

is can­cer in which can­cer cells have reached nearby lymph nodes and may have trav­eled through the lym­phatic sys­tem into the blood­stream.

Stage IV

is metastatic can­cer, in which the can­cer cells have en­tered the blood­stream and spread to dis­tant or­gans.

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