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The stage of a cancer is a standard way for doctors to sum up how far the cancer has spread. This is very important because your treatment and the outlook for your recovery depend on the stage of your cancer.

Anal cancer is staged based on the results of exams and tests described in the section “How is anal cancer found?

A staging system is a standard way for the cancer care team to describe the extent of the cancer. The most common staging system for anal cancer is the AJCC staging system, also known as the TNM system. It uses 3 key pieces of information:

  • T describes the size of the main tumor and if it has grown into nearby structures.
  • N describes spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • M tells whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.

The T, N, and M categories are combined to get an overall stage, using 0 and the Roman numerals I through IV (1-4). The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV (4), means a more advanced cancer.

If you have anal cancer, ask your doctor to explain its stage in a way that you understand. This can help you take a more active role in making informed decisions about your treatment.

Last Medical Review: 06/10/2014
Last Revised: 01/20/2016