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Cancer Education

Grading and Staging of Cancer

When cancer is detected, our experts will determine what type of cancer it is. They will also determine the grade and stage of the disease. Understanding these things about your diagnosis will help your care team develop a treatment plan that is best for you.

Grading measures how aggressive a tumor is. The grading process takes place in a lab and uses cancer cells taken during biopsy. The cells are graded by comparing them to normal cells. Low-grade cancers look more like normal tissue under the microscope. High-grade tumors look very abnormal and are generally more aggressive.

Staging determines the tumor's size and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This process uses a variety of tests, including scans. Each type of cancer, based on location in the body, has its own staging system. Stages range from 1 to 4, with stage 4 being the highest, most serious stage.

Stages of cancer

  • Stage 0 or carcinoma in situ
    Carcinoma in situ is very early cancer. The abnormal cells are found only in the first layer of cells in the primary site and have not invaded deeper tissues.
  • Stage 1
    This cancer involves the primary site (where it began), but it has not spread to nearby tissues.
  • Stage 2
    This cancer has spread to nearby areas and is still inside the primary site (where it began).
  • Stage 3
    This cancer has spread throughout tissue in the nearby area.
  • Stage 4
    This cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.
  • Recurrent
    This type of cancer has come back (recurred) after it was treated. It may come back in the same area or in a different part of the body.

Higher numbers usually mean more extensive disease, larger tumor size, and/or spread of the cancer beyond where it first developed. Once a stage is assigned, it never changes, even after treatment. For example, after a stage 1 cancer of the cervix is treated, it will remain a stage 1 cervical cancer even if it returns years later and has spread, or metastasized, to the lung. However, it is possible for some cancers to be restaged.

Staging helps your care team determine the appropriate treatment and provide a prognosis.

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