Cancer Diary: The Stages of Cancer

 


If you, a loved one, or a friend has been diagnosed with cancer, you probably already know the four (or actually, five) stages of cancer. For the uninitiated, however, and even for those struggling at one stage or another, it can be beneficial to review the formal definitions of these stages.

The different stages of cancer describe how far the cancer has grown and spread at the time of diagnosis. Stages are used to describe the spread of solid tumors, like breast, bowel or lung cancers. Blood cancers, such as leukemia or myelodysplasia, behave differently and are staged in different ways.

See Carl's Cancer Compendium for more detail and more links.

Stages of Cancer

The different stages of cancer describe how far the cancer has grown and spread at the time of diagnosis. Stages are used to describe the spread of solid tumors, like breast, bowel or lung cancers. The stage depends on how big the tumors are and how/if they have spread. Blood cancers, such as leukemia or myelodysplasia, behave differently and are staged in different ways.

The National Cancer Institute site explains the stages and how they are determined. They use a system called TNM, where T = size of the main tumor, N = whether the cancer is in nearby nodes, and M = the extent of metastasis (the spread of cancer to other body parts beyond where it started).

Tumor Stages

  • Stage 0. Presence of abnormal cells that could turn cancerous but are not yet cancerous and may remain always abnormal without turning into cancer. Also called carcinoma in situ.
  • Stage 1. Cancer is present, small, and only in one area. This is also called early-stage cancer.
  • Stage 2. Tumor is present, larger, and can be found in nearby tissues.
  • Stage 3. Tumor is large and has spread to nearby tissues and lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4. Cancer has spread to other (distant) parts of the body. This is also called advanced or metastatic cancer.

Blog editor's note: As a memorial to Carl, and simply because it is truly needed, MSI  is now hosting a web page, Carl's Cancer Compendium, as a one-stop starting point for all things cancer, to make it easier for those with cancer to find answers to questions that can otherwise take hours to track down on the Internet and/or from professionals. The web page is in its infancy but expected to expand into robustness. As part of this effort, each week, on Monday, this blog will carry an informative, cancer-related story -- and be open to guest posts: Cancer Diary. 

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