The most frequent question about cancer asked by a patient or his relative to the doctor is “At what stage is the cancer?”
The answer to this question is not always simple and it depends on which cancer you are talking about and which staging system the doctor is using. Some types of cancer have more than one type of staging system.
Most types of cancer have 4 stages, numbered 1 – 4. Often doctors write the stage down in roman numerals. So you may see stage 4 written down as stage IV.
Here is a brief summary of what the stages mean for most types of cancer.
- Stage 1 usually means a cancer is relatively small and contained within the organ it started in.
- Stage 2 usually means the cancer has not started to spread into surrounding tissue, but the tumour is larger than in stage 1. Sometimes stage 2 means that cancer cells have spread into lymph nodes close to the tumour. This depends on the particular type of cancer.
- Stage 3 usually means the cancer is larger and may have started to spread into surrounding tissues and there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes in the area.
- Stage 4 means the cancer has spread from where it started to another body organ. This is also called secondary or metastatic cancer.