Stage refers to the extent of your cancer, such as how large the tumor is, and if it has spread. Knowing the stage of your cancer helps your doctor:
A cancer is always referred to by the stage it was given at diagnosis, even if it gets worse or spreads. New information about how a cancer has changed over time gets added on to the original stage. So, the stage doesn't change, even though the cancer might.
To learn the stage of your disease, your doctor may order x-rays, lab tests, and other tests or procedures. See the section on Diagnosis to learn more about these tests.
There are many staging systems. Some, such as the TNM staging system, are used for many types of cancer. Others are specific to a
particular type of cancer.
Most staging systems include information about:
The TNM system is the most widely used cancer staging system. Most hospitals and medical centers use the TNM system as their main method for cancer reporting. You are likely to see your cancer described by this staging system in your pathology report, unless you have a cancer for which a different staging system is used. Examples of cancers with different staging systems include brain and spinal cord tumors and blood cancers.
Primary tumor (T)
Regional lymph nodes (N)
Distant metastasis (M)
The TNM system helps describe cancer in great detail. But, for many cancers, the TNM combinations are grouped into five less-detailed stages. When talking about your cancer, your doctor or nurse may describe it as one of these stages:
|Stage||What it means|
|Stage 0||Abnormal cells are present but have not spread to nearby tissue. Also called carcinoma in situ, or CIS. CIS is not cancer, but it may become cancer.|
|Stage I, Stage II, and Stage III||Cancer is present. The higher the number, the larger the cancer tumor and the more it has spread into nearby tissues.|
|Stage IV||The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.|
Another staging system that is used for all types of cancer groups the cancer into one of five main categories. This staging system is more often used by cancer registries than by doctors. But, you may still hear your doctor or nurse describe your cancer in one of the following ways:
To learn more about staging for your type of cancer, see the PDQ® cancer treatment summaries for adult and childhood cancers.