About Cancer Stages

Mature male physician listening to a female patient's lungsCancer stages are defined by how much cancer is in a person’s body and where it’s located. These two elements help physicians determine what stage a person’s cancer is. Physicians use staging information to help determine treatment plans and prognosis for most types of cancer. For example, leukemias are cancers in the blood and aren’t staged the same way tumor cancers are. Researchers may also consider staging when coordinating clinical trials and measuring outcomes.

Types of Staging

There are four different types of cancer staging:

  • Clinical Staging: This looks at the extent of the cancer based on a physical exam, imaging and lab tests and biopsies. This may also be used as a baseline when measuring the outcome of treatment.
  • Surgical Staging: Also referred to as the pathologic stage, this uses some of the results above as well as what’s learned about the cancer during surgery. The medical team can gain more precise information by examining the actual tumor or nearby lymph nodes.
  • Post-Therapy Staging: Also referred to as post neoadjuvant therapy, which relates to how much of the cancer remains after a patient is initially treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy prior to, or without, surgery.
  • Restaging: This type of staging is used to determine the extent of the disease, if cancer returns after treatment. Restaging is used to help determine treatment options.

Most Common Staging System

The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) and the International Union for Cancer Control (UICC) maintain the TNM classification system, which is the most common staging system for most cancers. With this system, each cancer is assigned a letter. T stands for the extent of the tumor, N indicates the extent of spread to the lymph nodes and M stands for the presence of metastasis.

Each type of cancer uses its own classification system, which means letters and numbers don’t always mean the same thing for every kind of cancer. Stage I cancers are the least advanced and may have a better prognosis. Higher stage cancers may be more advanced, but in many cases may still be treated successfully.

As of January 2016, there were more than 15.5 million children and adults living in the U.S. with a history of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2026, the population of cancer survivors will increase to 20.3 million.

Screenings and a heightened awareness of changes in certain parts of your body may help prevent some types of cancer. Talk with your doctor about changes in your body, screenings and early detection. Need a primary care physician? Find a primary care doctor near you. For laboratory and imaging needs, we have multiple centers conveniently located throughout Tampa Bay to help meet your needs. Find your closest imaging center or laboratory location and schedule appointments online today!