What Are the Four Stages of Cancer?

Reviewed on 1/5/2021

Doctors use Roman numerals I through IV to describe the progression of a cancer at the time of diagnosis. Stage I refers to tumors that are still localized, while Stage IV typically describes the most advanced cancers with metastases to other organs.
Doctors use Roman numerals I through IV to describe the progression of a cancer at the time of diagnosis. Stage I refers to tumors that are still localized, while Stage IV typically describes the most advanced cancers with metastases to other organs.

There are many staging systems. Some are used for many types of cancer while others are specific to particular types of cancer

A general staging for most cancers includes four main stages:

  • Stage I: Cancer is present and localized in one area (also called early-stage cancer)
  • Stage II: Cancer is larger and has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes
  • Stage III: Similar to stage II, but cancer is larger than stage II and has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes though it has not spread to other organs
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread (metastasized) to distant parts of the body (also called advanced cancer)

Stages may also be subdivided, using capital letters (for example, stage III might be subdivided into stages IIIA and IIIB).

Sometimes a fifth stage, Stage 0, is used. Stage 0 means abnormal cells are present but have not spread to nearby tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ (CIS), which is not cancer but it may become cancer.

What Is Cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells grow abnormally and out of control, crowding out normal cells. There are many different types of cancers. 

What Is Cancer Staging?

Staging refers to the extent of a cancer. Staging systems may include information about:

  • Tumor location
  • Cell type (such as, adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma)
  • Tumor size
  • If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • If the cancer has spread another part of the body
  • Tumor grade, which refers to how abnormal the cancer cells look and how likely the tumor is to grow and spread

Knowing the stage of a cancer can help determine:

  • How serious a cancer is 
  • A patient’s chances of survival
  • The best treatment plan for the patient
  • Clinical trials that may available as treatment options 

A cancer is always referred to by the stage it was determined to be at diagnosis, even if it spreads. 

How Is Cancer Staging Determined?

Different tests may be used to determine the stage of a cancer. Tests may include: 

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Reviewed on 1/5/2021
References
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/staging

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/staging.html