My brother is waiting on staging results for his cancer. What does that mean?

Stages describe the severity of the cancer based upon the location and amount of tumors in the body. Doctors evaluate where the cancer started, called the primary site, and if it has spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body.

The different stages of cancer range from Stage 0 to Stage IV. Sometimes stages will be subdivided with letters, for example Stage IIA and Stage IIB.

Different cancers are staged differently, so stage II breast cancer is not exactly the same as stage II prostate cancer. Yet, according to the National Cancer Institute, typical elements of staging include:

Location of the primary tumor

Size and number of tumors

If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes

Cell type

Tumor grade (how closely the cancer cells resemble normal tissue)

Whether or not metastasis has occurred

The TNM system is one of the most widely used staging systems and is based on the extent of the tumor (T), the extent of spread to the lymph nodes (N) and the presence of distant metastasis (M). A number is added to each letter to indicate the size or extent of the primary tumor and the extent of cancer spread. These numbers are then used to define the stages. Generally the stages can be broken down as follows:

Stage 0 - Carcinoma in situ or early cancer that is present only in the layer of cells in which it began.

Stage I – Usually localized or limited to the organ in which it began, without evidence of spread.

Stage II and Stage III - more extensive disease: Larger tumor size and/or spread of the cancer beyond the organ in which it first developed to nearby lymph nodes and/or organs adjacent to the location of the primary tumor.

Stage IV - The cancer has spread to another organ(s), usually distant from primary site.

For more information contact Courtney Britton, librarian at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge at (225) 927-2273, , or visit the Education Center at 550 Lobdell Ave., Baton Rouge.

ä Internet Resources:

Factsheet: Staging – National Cancer Institute

Staging – American Cancer Society

This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate