Cervical Cancer Overview

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

How is cancer of the cervix staged?

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 stage of the cancer.

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 group 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).

In the AJCC system, stages are labeled using Roman numerals 0 through IV (0-4). 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.

This system is based on clinical results (exams and tests) rather than surgical results. If surgery is done, it may show that the cancer has spread more than the doctors thought at first. The new information may change the treatment plan, but it does not change the cancer’s stage.

Last Medical Review: 04/24/2013
Last Revised: 01/31/2014