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Staging is the process of finding out 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. For early cancer, surgery may be all that is needed. For more advanced cancer, other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be used.

There is more than one system for staging colorectal cancer. Some use numbers and others use letters. But all systems describe the spread of the cancer through the layers of the wall of the colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer starts in the inner layer and can grow through some or all of the other layers. Staging also takes into account whether the cancer has spread to nearby organs and lymph nodes or to organs farther away.

Stages are often labeled using Roman numerals I through IV (1-4). 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.

Grade of colorectal cancer

Another factor that can affect the outlook for survival is the grade of the cancer. Grade is a description of how closely the cancer looks like normal colorectal tissue under a microscope.

Low-grade means the tissue looks more normal; high-grade means the tissue looks less normal. Most of the time, the outlook is not as good for high-grade cancers as it is for low-grade cancers. Doctors sometimes use the grade to help decide whether a patient should get more treatment with chemotherapy after surgery.

Last Medical Review: 10/15/2014
Last Revised: 02/26/2016