What are the Different Stages of Cancer?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Several different systems are used for ranking cancers by stage in the process of developing a treatment program. Staging this disease is important, because it allows a medical professional to assess it and use standardized terminology to describe it, so that the medical team can work together to develop the best course of treatment. Stages are ranked in order of severity, with slow or non-aggressive ones at the bottom of the scale, and fast-moving, severe cancers at the top.

Several systems rank cancer by stages of severity.
Several systems rank cancer by stages of severity.

One very common system for staging cancers runs from zero to four, with a stage zero being the least severe, while four is the most aggressive. An alternate numbered staging system is depicted in Roman numerals, with the option of I, II, III, and IV. Some physicians break the Roman numeral staging system down even further, with classifications like IIa and IIb to describe conditions that fall slightly between the stages.

An x-ray of cancerous lungs.
An x-ray of cancerous lungs.

Some medical professionals use the TNM system, which ranks a cancer with three separate parameters: tumor size, lymph node involvement, and metastasis. For example, someone could have a T3, N0, M1 cancer, meaning that the tumor was medium-sized, no lymph nodes are involved, and it has begun to metastasize slightly.

If a patient is in an early cancer stage, surgery may be necessary to remove the tumor.
If a patient is in an early cancer stage, surgery may be necessary to remove the tumor.

Other oncologists refer to in situ, localized, regional, and distant cancers when they talk about staging. In situ cancers are those that only involve a few cells, meaning that they are caught early or they develop slowly. Localized ones affect a larger area, while regional cancers are those that have begun to spread to neighboring organs and lymph nodes. In a distant cancer, it has spread to remote areas of the body, reflecting a widespread metastasis. This system is essentially interchangeable with the Roman numeral system of staging.

All types of cancer can be ranked under a staging system, including breast, colon, lung, and cervical cancers. Lower stages usually require less aggressive treatment, because the tumor is confined to a small area, and it may be able to be excised and eliminated. Higher stages require more serious treatment, and in some cases, it may be deemed untreatable as a result of how much it has spread.

Medical professionals sometimes disagree over the staging of a particular case, and seeking a second opinion can sometimes generate conflicting information. If healthcare providers do give different answers, it is a good idea for the patient to ask about why they disagree on their staging assessment, and how their treatment approaches might differ.

One very common system for staging cancers runs from zero to four.
One very common system for staging cancers runs from zero to four.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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My mother was able to overcome her colorectal cancer naturally without going under the knife, through the professional guidance of an African herbal practitioner.  My mother had undergone a biopsy on March 7th, 2019 that revealed she was suffering from stage IV colon cancer after having experienced loss of appetite, loss of weight, diarrhea and vomiting. Although she's  in her mid fifties, the symptoms had only started to occur at the critical stage of this condition. No member of my family has ever suffered from cancer. So after receiving the news of my mother's exposure to terminal colorectal cancer, the whole family was completely taken aback upon this discovery. The medical doctor had informed us that she had a relative 5-year survival rate of about 14%. But inwardly, I knew the year survival rate could be lesser than that, especially when the symptoms had grown more persistent and as the cancer in the colon was spreading to distant organs and tissues. A surgery was clearly detrimental at that period of time and as such, was totally out of the picture. For the betterment of her condition, I took it upon myself to carry out an extensive research in accordance with the nature of this disease and holistic remedies in overcoming it. Initially, I knew this possibility for a permanent remedy could be futile, but I had never wanted to take defeat as an option. It was during my relentless search for an everlasting remedy for this disease that I came across the talented works of one herbal expert, Dr. Ugo.  I saw an article on the internet and I read of how Dr. Ugo cured a woman suffering from Breast cancer. I collected the doctor's contact details and I reached out to him asap. I told him of my mom's situation. To brief it up, he prepared some herbs and sent them to us. My mom made use of the herbs as directed by the doctor and in less than seven weeks, every symptom she was experiencing vanished. My mom is Cancer free today, and this made me realize truthfully that nothing is impossible.. If you're experiencing a similar situation, you must understand that it is very possible for you to get well without surgery... all naturally. You can contact the Dr.Ugo through his direct contact details.. ugoherbalhome @ gmail.com  watsap : +2348104778498


@anon177729: "Outpatient" means the person is not staying overnight in the hospital. They may go to the hospital or cancer center for their treatments, but they are not in the hospital overnight.


What does outpatient s means? Do the outpatients need to stay at the hospital or not?


@Anon115747: Yes, it means she has cancer. Is it life-threatening? I don't know. It's great that you want to support your friend. Let me suggest you contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society. You can look in the phone book or online. Someone with the ACS can give you ideas about how to support your friend. They probably have a booklet or brochure you can read for more guidance on this. A person facing cancer needs his or her friends.


A friend has been told she has optic nerve glioma and she will shortly be undergoing chemo, etc. I want to understand this a little more to support her. Does this mean she has a form of cancer and is it life threatening ?


i have read this but i do not know anything about it, but my health teacher said you do not want to get cancer.


I admire your great gift of health that protects you at 76 from terminal diseases.

I am exploring systemic enzymes to help my body deal with inflammations (which are precursors of cancer) keep eating healthy minimizing animal meats, drinking plenty of water, exercising, being content, Yoga helps to release stress and unites the body-breath-mind, so I function as one piece.

Best regards, Health and longevity!


I have cancer in both lungs. But it is not termed lung cancer. It is kidney cancer. 13 years prior to detection, my right kidney was removed due to an encapsulated tumor.

The first and second opinion oncology docs agreed that, due to the slow growth nature of these tumors, no treatment was warranted.

No change in size (3mm) was reported over the last year. As my age is 76, both docs are of opinion that these cancers are unlikely to affect my life.

It would be nice to unquestionably accept their professional opinion. I am not 'there' yet. The docs credit my immune system. Headaches,infections never; colds, and flu rarely (two colds, flu once in 15-20 years). Still, would like to bolster/help the immune system. Fruits are a life long part of my regular food intake- grapes, dark plums, apples, peaches, cantalupes, etc. Have started brushing teeth multiple times per day to reduce workload on immune system. Comments, suggestions, other options requested.

Synthroid is the sole prescription medication.


I've read that not only do doctors sometimes disagree over the staging of a particular cancer, but that different cancers are sometimes staged with different systems. Lymphomas, for example, uses the Ann Arbor staging classification.

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