Understanding the different stages of Cancer
Cancer – Does it instil fear in your mind? I suppose the answer is yes. Without the knowledge of the various stages of cancer and how to cope with it, it does seem like it’s the world’s end.
And not only you, the mere mention of the word “cancer” frightens every person who hears it. It is one of the most deadly genetic diseases that has taken a toll on the mankind and is the leading cause of deaths around the world and in India too.
Hence, it is important to know about cancer and the stages of cancer and gather every possible information that you can.
A. What is Cancer?
The human body is made up of the basic units called cells which divide in order to help in the growth and repair of the body. But when some abnormal cells divide uncontrollably, that is when cancer begins.
These abnormal cells form a tumor, either malignant or benign. It is the malignant tumor or otherwise known as cancerous tumor which grows and gradually spreads to different body parts, at the higher stages of cancer. The benign tumor is not considered cancerous.
The malignant tumor, in the initial stages, shows benign growth. Gradually, when the tumor grows it becomes malignant.
B. Types of Cancer :
Before we move on to a detailed information about the stages of cancer, let us talk about the various types of cancer.
Cancer is divided into various groups namely :
- Carcinomas : These cancers usually begin in the skin or tissues covering the internal organs. These are the most common type of cancers.
- Lymphomas : Implies the lymphocyte cancer. It begins in the system which acts as a guarding agent against the impurities in our body. In this cancer, it is the lymph nodes which are affected.
- Leukemia : It is the cancer of the blood where the white blood cells grow uncontrollably.
- Brain tumours : Are the cancers that start in the cells of brain and spinal cord which are also known as central nervous system cancers.
- Sarcomas : Are the cancers which begin in the supportive or connective tissues of the body.
So, as we all know that due to cancer there have been million deaths in India and around the world, it is understood that diagnosing and curing the disease at an early stage is necessary. And to properly diagnose it and understand the severity and the extent to which it has spread in one’s body, doctors take help of the “stages of cancer”.
Cancer does have various forms but they share some common characteristics and knowing the stage of cancer found in your body helps the doctor to provide you with the best treatment possible.
C. The Stages of Cancer
When we talk about the stages of cancer, it is important to state that there are two ways in which the different stages can be explained – the TNM system and the Number Staging system.
- The TNM Staging System
TNM stands for Tumour, Node, Metastasis. This system helps in understanding of the size of the cancer, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes and also helps to know whether other body parts have been affected or not.
- Tumor or letter T indicates the size and spread of the cancer through the help of numbers from 1 to 4, where 1 implies the size is small and 4 implies a larger size.
- Node or letter N shows whether the spread of the cancerous cells has been to the lymph nodes or not with the help of numbers from 0 to 3, wherein 0 indicates that no lymph nodes contain cancer and 3 shows that lymph nodes are down with cancer.
- Metastasis or letter M implies whether the cancer made its way into the different parts of the body or not, also with the help of numbers. 0 indicates the cancer hasn’t spread and 1 indicates that it has.
For example, if we talk about the lower stages of cancer where the cancer is relatively small and has spread into the lymph nodes but not to the different portions of the body, it can be stated as T2 N2 M0. Whereas at the advanced stages of cancer, it can be T4 N3 M1.
Sometimes, a letter p or c is used to state the level of cancer. “p” and “c” stand for the pathological and clinical stages respectively.
2. The Number Staging System
In this staging system, cancers are described with the help of stage numbers. Usually, there are 4 stages of cancers, from Stage I to Stage IV. But some cancers also have a Stage 0(zero). Let us have a clear understanding of all the stages.
- Stage 0 (zero) indicates cancer “in situ” which means “in place”. It shows that cancer hasn’t started spreading to the adjacent tissues and is still in its place.
In this stage, usually the cancer is curable. It can be prevented from coming back by removing the abnormal cells or the tumor with the help of surgery. Also if a person starts following a healthy lifestyle and eats healthy food, the cancer can be reversed.
- Stage I indicates that the cancer is relatively small and is still within the organ it had started in. It shows that the cancer hasn’t started spreading into the neighboring tissues.
Hence, the doctors usually consider it in the early stages of cancer. If the malignant tumor has been detected in this stage, then treatment is generally possible.
- Stage II and III cancer shows that it has grown and rooted itself into the surrounding tissues as well. The abnormal cells may have made their way into the lymph system through lymph nodes but the other body parts are yet to be affected.
These stages of cancer are considered to be critical as reversing the cancer is difficult but because the other body parts are still not affected, we can say there is a chance to treat the cancer.
- Stage IV cancer is normally called the advanced stage or the metastasized stage. Here, the cancer has grown and embedded itself in the other organs as well.
In this stage, the treatment is difficult but as you know a single ray of hope can work wonders. So it’s not impossible to cure the advanced stages of cancer but to fight this deadly disease, one needs to follow a healthy lifestyle, undergo proper treatments and have the will power to make it through.
i. Stages of Cancer – Grading Systems
Along with the different stages of cancer, doctors also provide you with the information about the grading of cancer which gives them an idea as to how a particular cancer is going to behave and what kind of treatment would work the best for you.
These common grading systems include :
a. Grade I which indicates that the cancer cells are growing slowly and look much like the normal cells under a microscope.
b. Grade II implies the cells look abnormal and are growing faster than the normal cells.
c. Grade III describes the cancer cells as highly abnormal and the growth is much faster as compared to the normal cells.
Different cancers have different grading systems but generally, there are three grading systems.
Various factors like the age and general health of the person are considered before the treatment process starts. The stages of cancer and grading systems provide further insight into the condition of a patient and thereby help the doctors to provide the best treatments possible.
Apparently, when cancer is in the lower stages it has greater chances of being cured rather than a cancer at advanced stages as metastasized cancer would require faster and advanced levels of treatment.
ii. Stages of Cancer – Tumor Markers and Tumor Genetics
Just like the grading system, there are other ways to find out the chances of recovery of different types of cancer. Tumor markers (molecules found in the tissues, blood etc. in a person suffering from cancer) and tumor genetics(genes in cancer cells) are some such ways which help in determining the stages of cancer and hence determine the best treatment.
There are other cancers like brain tumors and the blood cancers which do not fall under the Tumor, Node, Metastasis staging system.
Brain tumors do not grow outside the brain and spinal cord and the blood cancers have their distinct staging systems.
Coping with cancer is not easy but not impossible
After a person is diagnosed with cancer, it is certainly difficult to cope with it. But one needs to be strong enough to take correct decisions. There are a number of treatment options available and one needs to discuss it with their families so as to arrive at the best possible and plausible conclusion.
If a patient is in the initial stages of cancer, one could even take their time to decide what kind of treatment method and which cancer center would treat you better. There are certain cancer hospitals in India that can provide you with the perfect cure.
Taking a decision regarding cancer treatment is not an easy task. It involves a lot of time and effort. But once the patient feels they are comfortable with what will follow, no time should be wasted.
Just as you fight any hurdle that you face in your life, prepare yourself to fight cancer in the same way! You will beat it if you are determined enough.
Why is the knowledge of Stages of Cancer significant?
You might be thinking why is the staging system so important. And I have an answer to that. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, they have to take care of a lot of things. To state some, what to eat, how to take care of your body henceforth, and what kind of treatment is necessary. Staging systems help the doctors to give you proper advice and help you in getting relief from the disease.
So, if your aim is to kill the cancerous cells in your body, you need to know about the different stages of cancer and how to treat them.
D. How to treat Cancer?
Yes! Cancer can be treated and you need to follow the steps as directed by your treatment advisor. Apparently, there are different kinds of treatment options available. One needs to talk to their doctor regarding the treatment that will be best for them based on the their types, grades and stages of cancer.
The different treatment methods available can be stated as :
- Radiation Therapy
- Hormone Therapy
- Targeted Therapy
- Stem Cell Transplant
- Precision Medicine
If cancer is detected at the early stages, it is easier to find treatment options that can cure you. But it doesn’t mean that the advanced stages of cancer cannot be eliminated from your body. In the cases of patients with advanced stages of cancer, proper physical and psychological care can provide relief.
If cancer is detected at the initial stages, surgery or radiation therapy is usually opted by the doctors. As the abnormal cells are in their place of origin, it is easier to get rid of it. If the cancer has started spreading, these treatments wouldn’t suffice. At these stages of cancer, treatment methods like chemotherapy or hormone therapy would be the best options. These methods of treatment would flow through the entire body and help in eliminating the cancer.
Sometimes, doctors even suggest a combination of two treatment methods. For example, along with treating the primary tumor (say surgery) they opt for chemotherapy. This is done at the higher stages of cancer in order to get rid of the cancer cells that have spread throughout the body.
Just as everything comes with a price, the cancer treatments do too. There are certain side effects that are accompanied with the treatment methods. Furthermore, you need to have a clear understanding of all the short and long term benefits and effects of the treatment options as well.
Effects of Cancer treatment
The different treatments options that you choose can affect your body by making certain alterations. The blood and circulatory system, the lymph system, hormone and immune system are mostly affected in such cases. So, one needs to be completely aware of all the factors related to cancer and its treatment.
Some cancer treatments might reduce the quantity of blood cells. At higher stages of cancer, the abnormal cells might make their way into different body parts through the blood.
In some cases, cancer cells might leave their trails in the lymph nodes. Thereafter, they will start growing there all over again.
There are few treatments that can weaken the body’s natural defenses, thereby weakening our body systems. The functioning of hormonal system is also altered due to some treatments.
Cancer isn’t unbeatable
Well, as they say, with life comes innumerable battles for survival. Each one of us faces hardships in life. But certainly, battling cancer is way tougher than anyone of us can imagine.
Proper diagnosis of the stages of cancer is necessary. What follows is the right procedures of treatment. In that way, you can eliminate the cancer from your body and thereafter, it will never look back at you.
According to experts, a healthy lifestyle, healthy eating habits, taking proper care of your body eliminates the chances of being diagnosed with cancer.
It isn’t like cancer cannot be defeated. It can be nipped in the bud if we stop it from taking control of our lives. One needs to be strong willed and determined to live. Strengthen yourself and be ready to endure all the hardships. Just believe that you’ll get to the other side in anyway.
Stay healthy! Stay happy!
Hope you like what I write and it helps you in some way or the other. 🙂