Cancer is a scary word. But when you know all the facts, knowledge and understanding can reduce the fear. Find out everything you need to know about cancer and its effects...

Stages of Cancer

Stages of cancer are essential in describing the severity of the disease in a cancer patient.  Determining the stage of cancer is based on the state of the original or primary tumour and if the cancer has reached the other parts of the body. By identifying the stage of cancer, the doctor will be able to know the type of treatment appropriate for the patient.  The stages of cancer have changed over time due to new discoveries and advancement in science.  At the moment, the TNM System is used and tumours are described in numbers. There are various procedures available in trying to get more information in determining the stages of cancer.

Elements of Stages of Staging Systems

The stages of cancer continue to evolve over time due to having more research about the disease. There are many staging systems that are able to cover various types of cancer while specific staging systems focus on particular cancers.  There are elements that determine stages of cancer such as the location of the primary or original tumour, the size and number of tumours present, the involvement of the lymph nodes, the type of cells and tumour grade, and the presence or absence of metastasis.

TNM System

The TNM System is by far, the most widely used staging system for cancer.  A lot of hospitals and medical practitioners have recognized the TNM System as their preferred method for determining the stages of cancer.  The TNM System looks as the state of the (T)umour, the severity of its spread to the lymph (N)odes, as well as the presence of (M)etastasis. For every letter, a number is added to signify the size or severity of the original tumour and if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.  For most of the types of cancers, TNM sequences indicate one to five stages of cancer.  The characteristics of the stages of cancer will vary depending on the type.  While the popular types of cancers have TNM classifications, there are also some, mostly rare cancers, do not have TNM classifications at the moment.

Types of Tests to Identify Stages of Cancer

There are many diagnostic tests available in order to identify the stages of cancer.

  • Physical exams rely on the senses of the doctor in order to find out if there is anything abnormal in the body.  This is a good test to initially locate the tumour and estimate its size.

  • Imaging studies such as computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging, x-rays, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans can determine the location and size of the tumours.

  • Laboratory tests look at the various bodily fluids and test for tumour markers that may show if cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Pathology reports such as biopsy and cytology indicate the size of the tumour and if it has grown into the other tissues and organs.  It also shows the types of cancer cells that are involved as well as the grade of the tumour.