Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Cancer Staging and Grading
Knowing the stage and grade of a person's cancer helps doctors know what treatment to use. It also helps predict how long the person will survive or whether there is a good chance for a cure.
Staging is a process that doctors use to describe how far cancer has spread.
Grading is a process that helps predict how fast the cancer will grow and spread.
In general, the stages of most cancers break down this way:
Although there are several methods of staging, most doctors now use the TNM method. The TNM method is based on the size of the tumor (T), the spread of the cancer into nearby lymph nodes (N), and the spread of the cancer to other body parts (M, for metastasis).
Most cancers can be described using the TNM system. But certain cancers—for example, cancers of the blood, bone marrow, or brain—use other staging systems.
A tumor's grade, from 1 to 4, describes how its cells look under a microscope. The more these cells look like normal cells, the lower the grade and the lower the likelihood that the cancer will spread quickly.
Tumor cells that look like normal cells are called grade 1 tumors. They usually grow slowly.
A grade 4 tumor, on the other hand, has cells that look very different from normal cells. Grade 4 tumors often grow quickly and spread rapidly.
For certain types of cancer, doctors use other grading methods. For example, in prostate cancer, the doctor gives the cancer a Gleason score. Prostate cancer cells that have a low Gleason score grow more slowly than cells that have a higher score.
Breast cancer and kidney cancer also use other grading methods.
Other Works Consulted
American Cancer Society (2010). Understanding your diagnosis: Staging. Available online: http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/UnderstandingYourDiagnosis/staging.
American Joint Committee on Cancer (2010). What Is Cancer Staging? Available online: http://www.cancerstaging.org/mission/whatis.html.
National Cancer Institute (2004). Tumor grade. National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/tumor-grade.
National Cancer Institute (2010). Cancer staging. National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/staging.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerJoseph O'Donnell, MD - Hematology, Oncology
Current as ofNovember 20, 2015
Current as of:
November 20, 2015
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Joseph O'Donnell, MD - Hematology, Oncology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.