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The stage of a cancer is how much and how far the cancer has spread in your body. Your healthcare provider uses exams and tests to find out the size of the cancer and where it is. He or she can also see if the cancer has grown into nearby areas, and if it has spread to other parts of your body. The stage of a cancer is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Doctors use different rating systems to stage cancer. There are two systems used most often to stage vaginal cancer:
FIGO staging system
TNM staging system
The two systems are very similar. The TNM system is:
T stands for tumor. This category notes details about the tumor itself.
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 distant lymph nodes, organs, or bones.
Stage 0. This is when the cancer cells are in the inside lining (epithelium) of your vagina and have not spread to other layers. This stage is also called carcinoma in situ (CIS). Healthcare providers frequently refer to stage 0 vaginal cancer as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia 3 (VAIN3). It may become invasive vaginal cancer and spread into the wall of the vagina in some women. There are 3 grades of VAIN. The grades are VAIN 1 (the least severe), VAIN 2, and VAIN 3 (the most severe). The FIGO system does not use Stage 0.
Stage I. The cancer has grown through the lining into the muscle wall of the vagina, but is only in the innermost layers of vaginal tissue (vaginal mucosa). The cancer has not spread outside the vagina to nearby tissues.
Stage II. The cancer has spread through the outside wall and into the tissues next to the vagina. But it has not spread to lymph nodes, the pelvic wall, or other organs.
Stage III. The cancer has spread outside the vagina into nearby tissues and to the walls of the pelvis. It also may have spread to nearby lymph nodes. The cancer has not spread to distant organs.
Stage IVA. The cancer has spread to organs near the vagina. These may include the uterus, ovaries, cervix, bladder, or the rectum. The cancer may also have spread to lymph nodes. The cancer has not spread to distant organs.
Stage IVB. The cancer has spread to distant organs. These may include the lungs or bones.
Another type of staging is noting if it’s recurrent. Recurrent cancer has come back after it has been treated. It may come back in the original area. Or it may come back in another part of the body.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Make sure to ask any questions or talk about your concerns.
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