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The stage (extent) of a cancer is one of the most important factors in determining your treatment options and the outlook for your recovery.

The stage is based on the prostate biopsy results (including the Gleason score), the PSA level, and any other exams or tests that were done to find out how far the cancer has spread. These tests are described in the section “How is prostate cancer diagnosed?

After looking at your test results, the doctor will tell you the stage of your cancer. Be sure to ask to have your stage explained in a way you can understand. This will help you work with your doctor to decide on your treatment.

AJCC TNM staging system

Most doctors use the AJCC (American Joint Committee on Cancer) TNM system to stage prostate cancer. This system is based on 5 key pieces of information:

  • The extent of the main tumor (T category)
  • Whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes (N category)
  • Whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body (M category)
  • The PSA level at the time of diagnosis
  • The Gleason score, based on the prostate biopsy (or surgery)

These factors are combined to determine an overall stage, using Roman numerals I through IV (1 - 4). The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV (4), means a more advanced cancer.

You can ask your doctor to explain more about the stage of your cancer and how it relates to your treatment choices.

Last Medical Review: 01/09/2015
Last Revised: 02/09/2016