Understanding the 4 Stages of Cancer


Understanding the stage of your cancer can tell you a great deal about your prognosis and treatment.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things they’re told is at what stage the disease is currently at.

The intention behind staging is to assess the extent of to which cancer has spread, through which a more accurate prognosis can be made. Basically, the stages provide doctors with data on what way the disease will develop over time, what kind of symptoms are likely to appear, determine the survival rate and potential complications that could occur.

Staging also has a bearing on the treatment options a patient has. For example, if an early-stage cancer is situated in one specific area, it possibly could be simpler to eliminate surgically or treat with radiation, unlike late-stage cancer which would have spread to further areas of the body and would most likely require chemotherapy.

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TNM: The universally used cancer staging system

The TNM classification system is the most extensively used cancer staging system. The system allocates letters and numbers to cancer to define the tumor (T), the lymph nodes (N), and in what way cancer has metastasized (M). These individual assessments aid in determining the overall stage of cancer.

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The T classification in TNM imparts date on the tumor, such as its size, to what extent it has developed in the organ it started from, and whether it has extended to other tissues.

  • TX indicates the tumor cannot be measured.
  • T0 indicates the tumor cannot be located.
  • Tis indicates the cancer is developing only in the outermost layer of tissue (this is typically true with Stage 0 or in situ cancer).
  • T1-T4 defines the proportions of the tumor and the degree to which it has encompassed nearby tissues. The greater the number after the T, the bigger the tumor.

Lymph nodes

The N classification defines whether the cancer has extended to the lymph nodes.

  • NX indicates the neighboring lymph nodes cannot be assessed.
  • N0 indicates the neighboring lymph nodes do not have cancer.
  • N1-N3 defines the proportion, position, and/or the number of neighboring lymph nodes affected by the cancer.


Metastasis dictates whether the cancer has expanded to additional parts of the body.

  • MX indicates that the metastasis cannot be measured.
  • M0 indicates that the cancer has not expanded extensively.
  • M1 indicates that the cancer has expanded to faraway organs or tissues.

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Stages 0 to IV of Cancer

After T, N, and M are defined, the doctor will give the cancer a stage from zero to four. Staging varies from cancer to cancer-there are times stages are subdivided into A and B categories, for example- here’s an approximate summary of how each stage is diagnosed.

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Stage 0 cancer

It’s still up for debate whether or not stage 0 is classified as the earliest stage of cancer or a precancerous stage since not all cancers have stage 0.

Stage 0 is titled as carcinoma in situ or CIS. Usually, stage 0 means that the cancer cells are present but have not breached through the lining or the initial wall.

That does not mean you shouldn’t worry about it, because they will sooner or later become invasive.  They’re just cancer cells that haven’t fully developed.

Stage I and II cancer

In these stages, the cancer is commonly found in just one area of the body. Stage I cancer is typically smaller in size while stage II is typically bigger.

Stage III

In the course of this stage, it usually means that the cancer has expanded to the lymph nodes.

Stage IV

This stage normally points to the cancer having expanded extensively all through the body or has metastasized.

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3 frequently asked queries about cancer staging

Does TNM concur with the cancer stage?

It’s essential to be aware of that the mixture of TNM categories you have does not automatically concur with the stage of cancer you might have.

There are other aspects that influence the stage of cancer. For instance, the grade of your cancer gauges how irregular the cancer cells appear. Low-grade cancers appear akin to cells in usual tissue and develop gradually while high-grade cancers develop quickly. Cell type likewise helps define the stage of cancer since your treatment will be influenced by the type of cancer cell.

Will cancer stages alter over time?

Fascinatingly, the stage of your cancer will not ever change throughout, even if it metastasizes. It will remain whatever it was titled when it was diagnosed.

For example, if someone was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer and went into remission, however it returned and expanded to your bones, it won’t be defined as stage IV. It would instead remain stage II breast cancer with recurrent disease in the bones.

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Are all stage III cancer identical?

Every cancer at different stages will have different prognosis and treatment options. Meaning, someone who has stage III for one type of cancer won’t necessarily have the same treatment or prognosis as a different type of cancer on the same stage.

That’s precisely why you ought to always confer your diagnosis in detail with your doctor so that you clearly comprehend what it entails for you and your treatment.



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