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Understanding the stages of cancer

When you're diagnosed with cancer, you may hear the disease referenced as being a certain stage. This is an important designation in making sure you receive the best possible treatment.

What is cancer staging?

Staging refers to the extent of cancer in your body, including how large a tumor has grown and whether cancer has spread from the initial site to other areas. While cancer staging systems can vary, most patients will hear their cancer described using Roman numerals such as stage I, II, III or IV. The higher the stage, the more advanced the cancer.

Why is cancer staged?

Cancer is staged because it helps your care team better understand your cancer and develop a personalized treatment plan that fits your needs. Cancer stages can also help determine the likelihood your cancer will be cured. Cancer staging makes finding options for clinical trials easier, too, since most research studies are for specific types and stages of cancer. It's important to note that cancers that spread throughout the body, such as leukemias, are assessed differently than solid tumors.

How does a doctor determine a stage of cancer?

Doctors may use X-rays or scans, blood tests, biopsies, surgery and other methods to determine the extent of your cancer.

For more information about cancer staging, talk to your care team or click here.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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