As a person who has cancer, you are not just a patient—you are an integral part of your own care team. You are able to provide first-hand information about your symptoms and side effects in a way that no one else can. The more you learn about your diagnosis, the more empowered you will feel to ask questions, voice your concerns, and share how you’re feeling. Find additional resources tailored to you in our Patients section.
Most cancers follow similar staging and grading systems that measure the severity and extent of the disease in the body. These two tools are helpful for understanding the progression of cancer and tracking progress in treatment.
Staging is a measurement system that is based on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread in the body. Using the TNM system (Tumor – node – metastasis system) described below, all of the information from tests and examinations is then combined and assessed to determine the stage, from I (one) to IV (four). Generally, the higher the stage, the more serious the cancer.
T: shows how far the main tumor has spread into nearby tissue
N: shows whether or not the nearby lymph nodes have cancer in them
M: shows if the cancer has spread (or metastasized) to distant organs in the body
No cancer, only abnormal cells with the potential to become cancer (also called carcinoma in situ).
Cancer is localized to one area and is in an early stage.
Cancer has grown larger and into nearby tissues or lymph nodes, but has not spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer has spread to other parts of the body (also called metastatic cancer).
The grade of an illness refers to how the cancer cells look when compared to normal cells. The lower the number, the more cancer cells look like the normal cells. This means the cancer is less likely to spread and may be easier to treat. Grade 3 looks very different from normal cells and is likely to grow and spread faster.