Cancer Staging


There are many types of cancers. They can behave in very different ways. When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, doctors evaluate and classify the cancer's characteristics. This process is known as cancer "staging." Staging helps doctors design effective cancer treatment plans.

Studying Your Cancer

Doctors use several methods to stage your cancer. A physical exam with tests of your tissues or fluids can provide crucial information. Your doctor may order x-rays or a CT scan or MRI scan. Your doctor may take a biopsy of your cancer cells. Doctors can also study any cells removed during a surgical procedure.

Classifying Your Cancer

Your doctor uses a code of letters and numbers to describe the size and behavior of your tumor. The code also notes whether cancer has spread to your lymph nodes or to other parts of your body. Your doctor may give your cancer an overall stage such as I, II, III or IV. Different systems of staging can be used for different types of cancers. Your doctor can explain the method used for your cancer, and what a particular stage might mean for you.


Even if your cancer progresses, doctors will still refer to it by the stage given when it was diagnosed. If your cancer goes into remission and then comes back, your doctor may give it a new stage. But this is only done for certain cases, and is not common.