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Prostate Cancer: Staging

Staging of cancer is a way of noting how big the cancer is and if it has spread. The stage is important in helping to decide on treatment choices. 

How staging starts

Healthcare providers use different rating systems to stage cancer. The American Joint Committee on Cancer staging system is used most often for prostate cancer. It’s called the TNM system:

  • T stands for tumor. This notes the size of the tumor and if it has spread into nearby areas.

  • N stands for nodes. Lymph nodes are small organs around the body. They help the body fight infections. This category notes if cancer cells have spread to the nearby lymph nodes.

  • M stands for metastasis. This category notes if the cancer has spread to other organs in the body. This may include a lung, your bones, liver, or brain. It also includes lymph nodes that are not near your prostate.

Numbers are assigned to the T, N, and M categories.

Additional information

Other information used to stage prostate cancer includes:

  • Your blood PSA level at the time of diagnosis

  • How different the cancer cells look from normal prostate cells (grade of cancer)

The stages of prostate cancer

The information above is then combined to give a prostate cancer stage. The stages are: 

  • Stage I. The cancer is only in one small part of the prostate. It has a low grade and a fairly low PSA level.

  • Stage IIA and IIB. The cancer is only in the prostate, but in more areas of the prostate. Or the grade of the cancer or the PSA level is higher.

  • Stage III. The cancer has grown outside the prostate. It has not reached nearby lymph nodes or distant organs.

  • Stage IV. The cancer has grown into nearby tissues such as the bladder. Or, it has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Or it has spread to distant parts of the body.

Talking with your healthcare provider

The staging system for prostate cancer is complex. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you have about your stage.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Gersten, Todd, MD
Last Review Date: 6/1/2017
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