The Stages of Cancer:
What You Need to Know and Why

Why are there stages of cancer? Are all cancers have stages? Are they reliable? If the doctor says the tumor is at its final or last stage, what does it mean?

These may be some of the questions you would be asking if you are or a loved one is diagnosed with the disease.

According to facts, there are two systems currently used to describe the stages of tumors:

1. the Overall Stage Grouping (which describes the 4 stages), and

2. the TNM Staging System.

Staging actually depends on the type of cancer and the system your doctor will use. Most doctors use the 4 stages for the most common types.

The different 4 stages describe how the disease has progressed or how developed it already is in your body by considering the characteristics of the tumor such as...

  • the tumor size
  • how deep the tumor has penetrated the organ of origin
  • whether it is a benign tumor or a malignant tumor
  • if it is malignant, has it affected the nearby and distant organs and
  • whether it has metastasized and if it has, how many lymph nodes are affected.

What is the importance of stages of cancer?

The stage of your tumor at the time of your diagnosis is the most powerful predictor of your survival.

Prognosis and treatment depend largely on on it. This is the reason why staging is done and why your doctor must know at what stage your tumor is in.

But bear in mind that although the stages of cancer may be very important in the prognosis and treatment, it is not everything. Prognosis and treatment also depend on 3 things such as:

  • your overall health
  • your own preference of treatment, and
  • results of tests done on cancer cells in your body.

Do all cancer types have stages?

Surprisingly, not all types do. Staging can't be used in most types of leukemia because the disease involves the blood and it doesn't form tumors.

Examination of the tumor is an important step in determining the extent and the depth of the cancer.

Staging is a complicated process that involves two necessary stages to get the data about the tumor.

These are:

1. The clinical stage - This is based on ALL information gathered about the tumor before it is surgically removed. This includes data from endoscopy, physical exam and radiologic exam.

2. The pathologic stage - This provides more information about the tumor after it is removed and is examined under a microscope by a pathologist.The pathologic stage is usually regarded as the "true" stage because the data used came from direct examination of the tumor. In the clinical stage, data came from examination of the tumor when it was still inside your body.

Which stage is more important?

Both clinical and pathologic stages are important because sometimes a tumor can't be treated with surgery and so, a pathologic staging is not possible. And also, sometimes a tumor is treated with chemo or radiation before it is removed. The chemo or radiation would shrink the tumor so when it is removed and examined, the findings may not be accurate. This is what happens in cases of inflammatory breast disease where chemo is done first.

How important is precise staging?

It is very important because proper and effective treatment is dependent on staging. Incorrect staging may lead to inappropriate treatment.

But do you know that precise staging can be hard to achieve? The level of precision or correctness depends on two things: the pathologist and the tissue from the tumor. It can happen that the pathologist may overlook the cancerous cells from the healthy cells. Also, what is examined under the microscope is not the whole tumor itself. Only some slices of the tissue are checked and it can happen that the slices of tissue the pathologist looks at don't contain the cancerous cells.

But here's a good news: Experts are now developing new methods of staging that are more sensitive to rule out the chances of underestimating any of the 4 stages of cancer.

Related Pages You Might Like:

TNM Staging | 4 Stages of Cancer | Cancer Classifications: Sarcoma, Carcinoma, Leukemia and Lymphoma | Common Types of Cancer In Men and Women | Kinds of Cancer | Leading Types of Cancer | Rare Types of Cancer | Rare Types of Cancer

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