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Staging is the process of finding out how far the cancer may have spread. This is very important because the type of treatment and the outlook for recovery (prognosis) depend on the stage of the cancer.

The most common system used to stage bone cancer is the TNM system of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC). It combines information about the tumor, spread to nearby lymph nodes, and spread to distant organs and tissues, and something called grade. The grade is based on how the cancer cells look under the microscope. A high grade means the cancer is more likely to grow fast and spread.

All of this information is then combined to get the stage. The stage is given as a Roman numeral from I through IV (1-4). The smaller the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV, means a more advanced disease. Most stages are also further sub-divided into A and B.

Even though the AJCC staging system is widely used for most cancers, bone cancer experts tend to use a more simple grouping: localized and metastatic. Localized means that the cancer is still only in the same bone it started in, and includes stages I, II, and III. Metastatic means that the cancer has spread out of that bone, and is the same as stage IV.

Ask your doctor to explain the stage of your cancer in a way you can understand. This will help you better understand your treatment choices.

Last Medical Review: 12/05/2012
Last Revised: 01/24/2013