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Stages of Cancer and Treatments For Different Stages

Last updated on : 06 Mar, 2023

Read time : 8 min

Cancer is a genetic disease marked by the uncontrollable growth of cells. It can originate in any organ or tissue of the body. A typical body cell performs its specific function within a particular part and undergoes a natural cell death after a fixed life span. However, cancerous cells start with one body part and spread to other organs or the entire body through blood. These cells do not die natural cell death. Instead, they grow abnormally, form tumours, and interfere with the normal functioning of organs. This type of Cancer is more severe and is called malignant Cancer. In contrast, benign Cancer is a non-cancerous or less severe cancer. It does not spread to other body parts or form new tumours. 

Cancer can originate in the skin, bones, tissues and blood. Over 100 types of cancer exist depending on the site in which these originate. Among these, lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer is more prevalent in men worldwide. At the same time, breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and thyroid cancer are more prevalent among women worldwide.

What are the stages of Cancer?

The stage of Cancer determines how large the tumour is and if it has spread from its original site. A diagnosis of the stage of your cancer allows your doctor to analyse the severity of your Cancer and your chances of survival. He can devise the best treatment plan according to your health condition.

Furthermore, Cancer is always referred to by the stage number it was first diagnosed. Any new information, including response to treatments or worsening of the Cancer, is added to the initial stage. So the stage remains the same, even though cancer might.

TNM (Tumour, node and Metastasis) system is a widely recognised system for the stages of Cancer, where T refers to the size, location and extent of the tumour. The nearby Lymph nodes with cancer are counted as N. M refers to whether Cancer has metastasised or spread from the original location to other body parts. TNM is scored as the following:

T or the primary tumour is measured as follows:

  • TX indicated that the original tumour could not be measured.
  • T0 indicates that the original tumour cannot be found.
  • T1 to T4 indicates the size and extent of the original tumour. T4 is the maximum measurement that indicates the tumour has grown large and grown into nearby tissues. 

N depicts the extent to which Cancer has spread in lymph nodes:

  • NX indicates that Cancer in nearby lymph nodes cannot be measured.
  • N0 indicates that there is no cancer in nearby lymph nodes.
  • N1 to N3 indicates the number and size of lymph nodes that have developed Cancer. N3 indicates that maximum lymph nodes have developed Cancer.

M depicts Metastasis or the measure of the spread of Cancer to other body parts:

  • MX indicates that the spread of Cancer cannot be measured.
  • M0 indicates that Cancer has not spread to other body parts.
  • M1 indicates that Cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

For many cancers, the TNM system is further described in 5 stages as discussed below:

Stage 0

During stage 0, the tumour remains in a specific area and can be surgically removed. For instance, breast cancer can be treated at stage 0 if diagnosed timely.

Stage 1 or early stage

During the first stage of cancer, the tumour spreads but does not invade deep into nearby tissue.

Stage 2 or early advanced stage

During stage 2 cancer, the tumour has invaded deep into the nearby tissue but has not spread throughout the body. Stage 2 is further divided into three stages according to the progression of Cancer.

Stage 3 or advanced stage

During stage 3 cancer, the tumour invades the lymph nodes but not the entire body.

Stage 4 or metastatic stage

During stage 4 cancer, the tumour invades lymph nodes, nearby tissues and organs throughout the body, significantly far from the original site.

The higher the stage, the more advanced Cancer is.

Read more- Cancer prevention tips to reduce the cancer risk

What are cancer grades?

Cancer grades are based on microscopic investigation of tumours to see how abnormal it looks and how quickly it is evolving and spreading. Cancer grades help specify the aggressiveness of the tumour. It also helps determine the stage of Cancer.

The three grades given to Cancer include:

Grade 1 or low grade: Cancer cells grow slowly and are similar to normal cells.

Grade 2 or intermediate grade: When the cancer cells grow more quickly and look different from the normal cells.

Grade 3 or high grade: When the cancer cells grow abnormally high rate and are very different from the normal cells.

What are the treatment options for different stages of Cancer?

Cancer stages and grades determine the treatment of cancer. The treatment also depends on how responsive your body is to the treatment type. Some respond well to a specific treatment. While for others, combination treatments work better. The remedies available for different stages of cancer are:

Treatment for early-stage of Cancer 

1. Surgery

Surgery is done early when the Cancer is at the primary site and has not spread to nearby locations. Chemo and radiation therapy are combined with surgery to eliminate Cancer from the body.

Treatment at an advanced stage of Cancer

The advanced stages of Cancer are challenging to treat. The treatment options involved in advanced stages include:

1. Chemotherapy

All the advanced stages of Cancer require chemotherapy in combination with other treatments. It is the most common treatment option for Cancer. It involves potent drugs such as pills or injections to shrink and kill cancer cells. 

Read moreFoods to eat during chemotherapy

2. Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is another must therapy in advanced stages when Cancer has spread to other body parts. It involves high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours. 

3. Immunotherapy

It is a biological therapy that helps the body’s immune system fight Cancer. It involves medications and immune cells that help strengthen your immune system.

4. Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy is used for breast and prostate cancer. This therapy is given to block the hormones that increase the size of the tumour.  

5. Targeted therapy for Cancer

This therapy is used for certain cancers, such as leukaemia, to target the proteins that control the growth and proliferation of cancer cells.

6. Hyperthermia

Hyperthermia is also called thermal therapy or thermotherapy. In this therapy, body tissue is heated up to 113 °F to damage and kill cancer cells. Heat is given by radiowaves, laser rays, ultrasound rays, heating fluids or inserting the entire body in a heated chamber.

7. Photodynamic therapy

This therapy uses a photosensitiser. It is a drug absorbed by cancer cells which becomes active on exposure to laser or LED light and destroys the cancer cells.

8. Stem cells or Bone marrow transplant

Stem cell transplant is an advanced therapy to restore blood-forming stem cells in cancer patients undergoing chemo and radiation therapy. This transplant works directly for multiple myeloma and some types of blood cancers.  

Treatments at stage 4 Or metastatic stage

Metastatic Cancer can be cured in some cases. However, for most metastatic cancers, treatment does not cure Cancer but can slow the progression and reduce symptoms. A metastatic cancer treatment aims to stop or slow the growth of cancer. When metastatic cancer is well controlled, some people can live for years. 

Treatment option for metastatic Cancer includes chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or hormone therapy. Other treatments, such as palliative care, help improve the quality of life by relieving symptoms. Palliative care is helpful throughout the treatment of Cancer. Living for many months or years with cancer is possible with appropriate treatment and care.

Disclaimer: The information given in this article is true to our best knowledge. Still, we recommend you consult an oncologist to guide you through the diagnosis of stages of cancer and treatments.


  1. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/staging
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Our healthcare experts have carefully reviewed and compiled the information presented here to ensure accuracy and trustworthiness. It is important to note that this information serves as a general overview of the topic and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or cure any health problem. This page does not establish a doctor-patient relationship, nor does it replace the advice or consultation of a registered medical practitioner. We recommend seeking guidance from your registered medical practitioner for any questions or concerns regarding your medical condition.


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