The 4 Stages Of Cancer

We’ve all heard about the stages of cancer at one time or another, particularly stage 4, which instills fear and terror. What are the 4 stages of cancer, and why are cancers classified in stages? Staging helps doctors determine the nature of the cancer, such as where it is located, whether or not it has metastasized, the chances of reoccurrence, the prognosis, and the most effective treatment options. The various stages detail the progression of the disease, with each stage increasing in severity.

The 4 Stages of Cancer - Graphic

What Are The 4 Stages Of Cancer?

In reality, there are 5 stages of tumor growth, including stage 0. Each stage progresses, not only in terms of severity, but the degree to which the cancer was contained. Early-stage cancers are much easier to treat, and typically have a favorable prognosis. Late-stage cancers, that are metastatic and advanced, have a more grim outcome.

Stage 0: The cancer is contained in one location, has not spread, and is referred to as “in situ.” The prognosis for stage 0 in most cases is very good. Protocols include lifestyle strategies to optimize immune function, such as cutting out sugar and processed foods, detoxification, and eliminating environmental toxins.

Stage 1: In this stage, the tumor may have spread to surrounding tissue, but hasn’t yet reached the lymph system or blood stream. This is considered an early-stage cancer, and the prognosis is still good. Patients with stage 1 cancer are treated with conventional treatments, however alternative and complementary strategies work well, along with lifestyle changes to optimize immune function.

Stage 2: Cancers in this stage have spread more extensively into nearby tissues, as well as the blood and lymph systems, and cancer cells may be detected in the lymph nodes. Immune-system protocols are vital at this stage to prevent further mutations. Stage 2 is serious, but not without hope, since the cancer hasn’t yet metastasized to nearby organs.

Stage 3: This stage of cancer is similar to stage 2 and is referred to as a “regional cancer” because although it has spread to surrounding tissues, it’s hasn’t spread to any organs. The prognosis is looking bleaker in this stage.

Stage 4: In this stage, cancers are considered metastatic, malignant, invasive, and advanced, meaning other organs of the body are now affected. This is known as “distant spread,” is harder to treat, and the chances of a positive outcome are declining, but not entirely impossible. Survival rates are better when patients adhere to healthy lifestyle practices, in conjunction with conventional and alternative treatments.

Interestingly, the initial stage the cancer was diagnosed at, remains the same over time even if it returns or has metastasized to other areas.

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TNM Staging

Many medical practitioners utilize the TNM system of the AJCC, or American Joint Committee on Cancer, which is more descriptive of the stages of cancer, and is based on a series of questions that arise following testing procedures, such as imaging scans, diagnostic testing, biopsies, and surgery. How big is the tumor and where is it located? Has the cancer spread to the lymph nodes, and if so, how many nodes are involved?  Where are the nodes located? If the cancer has spread, what is the extent of the metastases, and is it likely to spread further based on tumor markers?

Here is a description of the markers in the TNM system. Keep in mind, specific cancer types are staged differently, such as blood cancers like lymphoma and leukemia since no tumors involved. Brain cancer is unique as well since tumors of the brain are contained within the brain and spinal cord. The “N” and “M” ratings would therefore not apply.

True Health Labs BannerT: Stands for “Tumor.” A scale of 0-4 is based on the location and size of the tumor, as well as the extent of tumor growth into surrounding tissues. The bigger the tumor, measured in centimeters, the higher the number. For instance, a very large, invasive tumor would be a 4 on the scale.

N: Stands for “Node.” A number ranging from 0 to 3 designates how many lymph nodes are affected. If these nodes are close to where the cancer originated, they are referred to as “regional” lymph nodes. ” Distant” lymph nodes refer to nodes further from the tumor site. The larger the number on the scale, the more lymph nodes are involved.

M: Stands for “Metastasis.” An indicator of whether cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. A designation of MO means the cancer has not spread, with M1 being a marker of metastases.

Clinical and Pathological Staging

There are two categories of staging, clinical and pathological. Clinical staging, indicated by the letter “c” is based on testing results performed before surgery, including scans and physical exams, whereas pathological staging, indicated by the letter “p” is based on findings uncovered during surgery, providing information helpful in determining prognosis.

Incidentally, staging is not dependent on whether a patient has received treatment prior to surgery, such as chemotherapy and/or radiation or immunotherapy that is used to shrink the tumor pre-surgery. This stage is referred to as the post-therapy stage, and is indicated by the letter “y.”

A lowercase “r” indicates that the cancer has been restaged in order to assess treatment effectiveness or to re-evaluate a cancer that has returned following treatment.

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Key Points

When facing cancer, it’s essential to know your enemy, and what you’re up against.  Targeted lifestyle strategies are paramount, for not only preventing cancer, but for optimizing immune function, which is ultimately what will determine your fate.  No matter what cancer stage you’re in, the impact of complementary treatments should not be underestimated. These powerful therapies help prepare your body for battle.

Do you have personal experience with cancer? Please take a minute to share your insights and experiences below:)

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1. The Truth About Cancer: Understanding The Four Stages Of Cancer

2. Stages Of Cancer

3. Cancer Prevention Guide: The 4 Stages Of Cancer

4. PubMed: The principles of cancer staging

5. NCBI: TNM classification

6. PubMed: The Development and Causes of Cancer

7. National Library of Medicine: Tumor Staging and Grading: A Primer

8. PubMed: The Staging of Cancer: A Retrospective and Prospective Appraisal


Disclaimer: This article is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice.

6 thoughts on “The 4 Stages Of Cancer”

  1. Holly,

    thanks for the wonderful information you have blessed us with today concerning cancer. I know cancer is so deadly and lately most of us have been very careful about what we consume, even what we eat because we know it’s caused by carcinogens, but my question is what are the examples of carcinogens we have around us?

    • Hi Salim,

      Yes, cancer is a scary disease and one that is on the rise. I believe this is in part due to our toxic food and water supplies, environmental toxins, heavy metals, pesticides, plastics, GMOs, and even the mercury in the air we breathe. Cleaning up your environment and eating organic foods is essential to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases. 

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Thanks for sharing this informative article. Staging cancer is so critical, in fact, It helps the doctor in terms of formulating a treatment plan, including which type of surgery is needed and/or whether chemotherapy or radiation therapy are needed. Also, helping to predict the likelihood that the cancer will come back after the original treatment.  Well written and thorough article. Great job!

    • Hi and thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Yes, knowing the stage of the cancer helps doctors on many levels, particularly on the aggressiveness of the treatment. 

  3. Hello! What an amazing article you’ve got here.Yes, cancer is a scary disease and one that is on the rise. I believe this is in part due to our toxic food and water supplies, environmental toxins, heavy metals and even the mercury in the air we breathe. Cleaning up your environment and eating organic foods is essential to prevent cancer. Thanks for sharing

    • Thank you. Yes, it is a frightening disease and an increasingly more common one. Cancer is a multi-faceted disease. Our toxic food supply, our stressful lifestyles, and our polluted water sources factor in. It doesn’t help that we’re swimming in a sea of environmental toxins and heavy metals. Everyday we increase our toxic burden by slathering on toxic body care products and using toxic household cleaners. The list never ends…


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