Cervical Cancer

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

How is cervical cancer staged?

The process of finding out how far the cancer has spread is called staging. Information from exams and diagnostic tests is used to determine the size of the tumor, how deeply the tumor has invaded tissues in and around the cervix, and the spread to lymph nodes or distant organs (metastasis). This is an important process because the stage of the cancer is the key factor in selecting the right treatment plan.

The stage of a cancer does not change over time, even if the cancer progresses. A cancer that comes back or spreads is still referred to by the stage it was given when it was first found and diagnosed, only information about the current extent of the cancer is added. A person keeps the same diagnosis stage, but more information is added to the diagnosis to explain the current disease status

A staging system is a way for members of the cancer care team to summarize the extent of a cancer's spread. The 2 systems used for staging most types of cervical cancer, the FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) system and the AJCC (American Joint Committee on Cancer) TNM staging system, are very similar. Gynecologists and gynecologic oncologists use the FIGO system, but the AJCC system is included here to be complete. The AJCC system classifies cervical cancer on the basis of 3 factors: the extent of the tumor (T), whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes (N) and whether it has spread to distant sites (M). The FIGO system uses the same information. The system described below is the most recent AJCC system, which went into effect January 2010. Any differences between the AJCC system and the FIGO system are explained in the text.

This system classifies the disease in stages 0 through IV. Staging is based on clinical rather than surgical findings. This means that the extent of disease is evaluated by the doctor's physical examination and a few other tests that are done in some cases, such as cystoscopy and proctoscopy − it is not based on the findings during surgery or on imaging tests.

When surgery is done, it might show that the cancer has spread more than the doctors first thought. This new information could change the treatment plan, but it does not change the patient's stage.

Tumor extent (T)

Tis: The cancer cells are only found on the surface of the cervix (in the layer of cells lining the cervix), without growing into deeper tissues. (Tis is not included in the FIGO system)

T1: The cancer cells have grown from the surface layer of the cervix into deeper tissues of the cervix. The cancer may also be growing into the body of the uterus, but it has not grown outside the uterus.

T1a: There is a very small amount of cancer, and it can be seen only under a microscope.

  • T1a1: The area of cancer is less than 3 mm (about 1/8-inch) deep and less than 7 mm (about 1/4-inch) wide.
  • T1a2: The area of cancer invasion is between 3 mm and 5 mm (about 1/5-inch) deep and less than 7 mm (about 1/4-inch) wide.

T1b: This stage includes stage I cancers that can be seen without a microscope. This stage also includes cancers that can only be seen with a microscope if they have spread deeper than 5 mm (about 1/5 inch) into connective tissue of the cervix or are wider than 7 mm.

  • T1b1: The cancer can be seen but it is not larger than 4 cm (about 1 3/5 inches).
  • T1b2: The cancer can be seen and is larger than 4 cm.

T2: In this stage, the cancer has grown beyond the cervix and uterus, but hasn't spread to the walls of the pelvis or the lower part of the vagina. The cancer may have grown into the upper part of the vagina.

T2a: The cancer has not spread into the tissues next to the cervix (called the parametria).

  • T2a1: The cancer can be seen but it is not larger than 4 cm (about 1 3/5 inches).
  • T2a2: The cancer can be seen and is larger than 4 cm.

T2b: The cancer has spread into the tissues next to the cervix (the parametria)

T3: The cancer has spread to the lower part of the vagina or the walls of the pelvis. The cancer may be blocking the ureters (tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder).

  • T3a: The cancer has spread to the lower third of the vagina but not to the walls of the pelvis.
  • T3b: The cancer has grown into the walls of the pelvis and/or is blocking one or both ureters (this is called hydronephrosis).

T4: The cancer has spread to the bladder or rectum or it is growing out of the pelvis

Lymph node spread (N)

NX: The nearby lymph nodes cannot be assessed

N0: No spread to nearby lymph nodes

N1: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes

Distant spread (M)

M0: The cancer has not spread to distant lymph nodes, organs, or tissues

M1: The cancer has spread to distant organs (such as the lungs or liver), to lymph nodes in the chest or neck, and/or to the peritoneum (the tissue coating the inside of the abdomen).

Stage grouping and FIGO stages

Information about the tumor, lymph nodes, and any cancer spread is then combined to assign the stage of disease. This process is called stage grouping. The stages are described using the number 0 and Roman numerals from I to IV. Some stages are divided into sub-stages indicated by letters and numbers. FIGO stages are the same as AJCC stages, except that FIGO staging doesn’t include the lymph nodes until stage III. In addition, stage 0 doesn’t exist in the FIGO system.

Stage 0 (Tis, N0, M0): The cancer cells are only in the cells on the surface of the cervix (the layer of cells lining the cervix), without growing into (invading) deeper tissues of the cervix. This stage is also called carcinoma in situ (CIS) which is part of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 3 (CIN3). Stage 0 is not included in the FIGO system.

Stage I (T1, N0, M0): In this stage the cancer has grown into (invaded) the cervix, but it is not growing outside the uterus. The cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).

Stage IA (T1a, N0, M0): This is the earliest form of stage I. There is a very small amount of cancer, and it can be seen only under a microscope.

The cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).

  • Stage IA1 (T1a1, N0, M0): The cancer is less than 3 mm (about 1/8-inch) deep and less than 7 mm (about 1/4-inch) wide. The cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).
  • Stage IA2 (T1a2, N0, M0): The cancer is between 3 mm and 5 mm (about 1/5-inch) deep and less than 7 mm (about 1/4-inch) wide. The cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).
  • IB (T1b, N0, M0): This includes stage I cancers that can be seen without a microscope as well as cancers that can only be seen with a microscope if they have spread deeper than 5 mm (about 1/5 inch) into connective tissue of the cervix or are wider than 7 mm. These cancers have not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).
  • IB1 (T1b1, N0, M0): The cancer can be seen but it is not larger than 4 cm (about 1 3/5 inches). It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).
  • IB2 (T1b2, N0, M0): The cancer can be seen and is larger than 4 cm. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).

Stage II (T2, N0, M0): In this stage, the cancer has grown beyond the cervix and uterus, but hasn't spread to the walls of the pelvis or the lower part of the vagina.

Stage IIA (T2a, N0, M0): The cancer has not spread into the tissues next to the cervix (called the parametria). The cancer may have grown into the upper part of the vagina. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).

  • IIA1 (T2a1, N0, M0): The cancer can be seen but it is not larger than 4 cm (about 1 3/5 inches). It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).
  • IIA2 (T2a2, N0, M0): The cancer can be seen and is larger than 4 cm.
  • IIB (T2b, N0, M0): The cancer has spread into the tissues next to the cervix (the parametria).

Stage III (T3, N0, M0): The cancer has spread to the lower part of the vagina or the walls of the pelvis. The cancer may be blocking the ureters (tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder). It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).

  • IIIA (T3a, N0, M0): The cancer has spread to the lower third of the vagina but not to the walls of the pelvis. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).
  • IIIB (T3b, N0, M0; OR T1-T3, N1, M0): either:
  • cancer has grown into the walls of the pelvis and/or has blocked one or both ureters (a condition called hydronephrosis),

OR

  • cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the pelvis (N1) but not to distant sites (M0). The tumor can be any size and may have spread to the lower part of the vagina or walls of the pelvis (T1 to T3).

Stage IV: This is the most advanced stage of cervical cancer. The cancer has spread to nearby organs or other parts of the body.

  • IVA (T4, N0, M0): The cancer has spread to the bladder or rectum, which are organs close to the cervix (T4). It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0) or distant sites (M0).
  • IVB (any T, any N, M1): The cancer has spread to distant organs beyond the pelvic area, such as the lungs or liver.

Last Medical Review: 09/19/2014
Last Revised: 10/13/2014