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The process of finding out how far the cancer has spread is called staging. Information from exams and tests is used to figure out the size of the tumor, how deeply the tumor has grown into tissues in and around the cervix, and the spread to lymph nodes or distant organs (metastasis). Staging is very important because the treatment and the outlook for your recovery depend on the cervical cancer’s stage.

The stage of a cancer does not change over time, even if the cancer keeps growing. A cancer that comes back or spreads is still referred to by the stage it was given when it was first found. But information about the current extent of the cancer is added.

A staging system is a way for members of the cancer care team to sum up the extent of a cancer's spread. The 2 systems used for staging most types of cervical cancer are the FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) system and the AJCC (American Joint Committee on Cancer) TNM staging system. They are very much alike. They both only use the doctor's physical examination and a few other tests that are done in some cases, such as cystoscopy and proctoscopy to decide the stage. The stage isn’t based on the findings at surgery or on imaging tests. The main factor that decides the stage of cervical cancer is the extent of the tumor.

Both of these systems label stages with Roman numerals I through IV (I-4). The AJCC system also includes stage 0. As a rule, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV (4), means a more advanced cancer. All stages (except for stage 0) are further divided into smaller groups labeled with letters and numbers.

Last Medical Review: 10/15/2014
Last Revised: 01/29/2016