Cancer is typically labelled in stages from I to IV, with IV being the most serious. Those broad groups are based on a much more detailed system that includes specific information about the tumour and how it affects the rest of your body
It’s important to understand your cancer stage for several reasons:
Outlook: Your recovery will depend in part on how early the cancer is found. Your stage gives you an idea of your possible outcomes.
Research: Most hospitals work with a national database that keeps track of which treatments are used and how well they work. Researchers can compare similar cases to find the most effective treatments.
Although each person’s situation is different, cancers with the same stage tend to have similar outlooks and are often treated the same way. The cancer stage is also a way for doctors to describe the extent of the cancer when they talk with each other about a person’s cancer.
- Stage 0 means there’s no cancer, only abnormal cells with the potential to become cancer. This is also called carcinoma in situ.
- Stage I means the cancer is small and only in one area. This is also called early-stage cancer.
- Stage II and III mean the cancer is larger and has grown into nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
- Stage IV means the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. It’s also called advanced or metastatic cancer.
A physical exam and several tests are used to determine your clinical stage — an estimate of how far the cancer has spread. Tests may include blood and other lab tests and imaging scans. Those may be X-rays or any of the following:
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Powerful magnets and radio waves are used to make detailed images of the affected area.
Computerised tomography (CT) scan: Several X-rays are taken from different angles and put together to show more information.
Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves are used to make images of the inside of your body.
You also may have a biopsy, in which a small piece of tissue is taken and looked at under a microscope.
If a tumour is removed with surgery, your doctor will learn more about it and how it’s affected your body.
Doctors look at other information about your cancer for clues about how it will behave. These include:
Grade: This is how cancer cells look under a microscope. Low grade means they look a lot like normal cells. High grade means they look very abnormal. Low-grade cancer cells grow more slowly and are less likely to spread than high-grade.
Location: Where the tumour is in your body may make it harder to treat.
Genetics: The DNA of the cancer cells can tell your doctor if it’s likely to spread and what treatment may work.
Stages Don’t Change
Your cancer stage typically stays the same as when you’re first diagnosed, no matter what happens with the disease. For example, if you’re diagnosed with stage II lung cancer, that’s what it will be called, whether it spreads or goes into remission. That’s when cancer cells are gone.
Dr Amit Gandhi, an Oncologist from Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai, said, “High-grade cancer is one of the stages of cancer. Generally, we call it the third or the fourth stage of cancer. This cancer can attack any organ in the body. If the patients are diagnosed with cancer in the fourth stage, then the chances of a patient getting cured is less. So, when the patients come to the doctors, to find out the stage of cancer, doctors perform CT scan. Or by doing a biopsy the stage is decided.”
“In high-grade cancer, the cancer cells grow faster and spread faster in the body as compared to low-grade cancer. In High-grade cancer, the cancer treatment has to be faster than low-grade cancer. Sometimes, cancer relapses within five years of the treatment,” said Dr Amol Wankhede, an Oncologist and public health specialist of Indian Cancer Society of Public Health, Mumbai.
He further added, “Cancer has four stages. But, the stages of cancer and grade have no direct connection. As per the grade the doctors assume how far has the cancer spread and at what pace. In grade-1 cancer cells appear to be normal, in the grade-2 the cells are abnormal and in the grade-3 and grade-4 stage the cells grow rapidly.”
Experts stated that in India, 85 per cent of the people who visit the doctor in the third or the fourth stage of cancer.
With inputs from WebMD