Staging of cancer is done to find out the size of the tumor and the extent to which it has spread. Cancer is labeled typically between stages 0 and IV, IV being the most serious. These groups are based on a much more detailed system for the doctors to understand everything about the tumor and how it affects the rest of your body.
What are the different stages of cancer?
Most cancers that involve a tumor are staged in five broad groups. These are usually referred to with Roman numerals. Other kinds, like blood cancers, lymphoma, and brain cancer, have their own staging systems.
- Stage 0, or carcinoma in situ, means there is no cancer, only abnormal cells with the potential to become cancer
- Stage I means the cancer is small and only in one area. This is also called early-stage cancer.
- Stage II and III mean the cancer is larger and has grown into nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
- Stage IV means the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. It’s also called advanced or metastatic cancer.
Why you should know stages of cancer?
- Treatment: It helps your doctor to determine what treatment course to follow for you. An early-stage cancer may need surgery while an advanced stage may need surgery, chemotherapy and radiation combined.
- Outlook: The stage of cancer gives you an idea about your possible outcomes.
- Research: Most hospitals keep a database of treatments used and how well they work. Researchers can refer to similar cases and find the most effective treatment.
Also Read: Here are the 9 types of cancer treatments
How is staging determined?
A physical exam, along with few other tests are done to determine the clinical stage- how far the cancer has spread:
- MRI: Magnets and radio waves are used to make detailed images of the affected area
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan: Several X-rays are taken from different angles and put together to show more information.
- Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves are used to make images of the inside of your body.
- Biopsy: A small tissue from the affected area is taken to look under a microscope for cancer cells.
What is TNM system for cancer staging?
This is another factor your doctor may use to determine cancer stage, which is short for tumor, node, and metastasis. They measure each of these and give it a number or an “X” if they can’t determine a measurement. The symbols are a bit different for each type of cancer, but this is generally what they mean:
- Tumor (T): ‘T’ followed by a number between 0-4 means how large the tumor is. The higher the number the bigger the tumor. T0 means there is no measurable tumor.
- Node (N): ‘N’ followed by a number between 0-3 tells the doctors if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. These glands filter bacteria and viruses before they reach other parts of the body. N0 means lymph nodes are not involved. A higher number means cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, farther away from the original tumor.
- Metastasis (M): “M” is followed by either 0 or 1. It says if the cancer has spread to organs and tissues in other parts of your body. A 0 means it hasn’t, and a 1 means it has.
What are the other factors for the staging of cancer?
Doctors also look at other factors for staging the cancer:
- Grade: This refers to how cancer cells look under a microscope. Low grade means they look like normal cells. Low-grade cancer cells grow more slowly and are less likely to spread than high-grade.
- Location: Sometimes, the location of the tumor in the body makes it harder to treat.
- Tumor markers: These are elements in the blood and urine that are high when certain types of cancer are present.
- Genetics: The DNA of the cancer cells tells the doctor if it’s likely to spread and what treatment to use.
Your cancer stage stays the same even if it spreads or goes into remission. This is because your chances of recovery and the treatment options are based on how early the cancer is diagnosed.
In a few cases, cancer may be restaged with a new round of tests after treatment or if it comes back.
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