Spotlight On: The Stages of Cancer

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, determining the stage of the cancer is an important next step. Staging describes the extent or severity of a person’s cancer, which helps doctors determine the best course of treatment and a prognosis.




Common Staging Procedures and Types:

  • The most common staging is TNM, which designates three aspects of cancer. “T” refers to the extent or size of the tumor, “N” refers to whether cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes and “M” refers to whether the cancer has metastasized. Numerals are often used to indicate the degree of each aspect, depending on specific cancer types.
  • Most tumors can be described as stage 0, stage I, stage II, stage III or stage IV. Physical exams, imaging procedures, laboratory tests, pathology reports and surgery can all provide information to determine the stage.
  • ÊClinical staging estimates how much cancer exists based on a physical exam, imaging and tumor biopsies, as well as other testing if needed. The clinical stage is key when deciding the best treatment for an individual diagnosis. It’s also a baseline for comparison when looking at the typical response to treatment for a given type of cancer.
  • Pathological or surgical staging relies on what is learned during surgery, either to remove the cancer and nearby lymph nodes or to determine how much cancer is in the body and take tissue samples. The pathological stage gives the health care team more precise information, used to predict treatment response and outcomes.

The information in this post was pulled from the American Cancer Society. For more information on cancer staging, visit The American Cancer Society or talk to your doctor.