What Are The Stages of Cancer

Today I want to help you understand what are the stages of cancer and what it actually means for the patient and those around them.

Many of us are probably familiar with the terms Stage I cancer, Stage II cancer, thru to Stage IV (1 thru 4), but there are actually 5 stages; there is also a Stage 0.  But what do these numbers mean and what are they actually telling us?

History and Development of Cancer Staging Systems

The most popular staging system used by doctors and hospitals is the TNM System, whereby:

  • T‘, or Tumour Descriptor, refers to the size of the tumour and whether or not it has invaded adjacent tissue.
  • N‘, or Nodal Descriptor, refers to nearby lymph nodes that maybe involved.
  • M‘, or Metastasis Descriptor, refers to the extent that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

The concept of a common cancer staging system was first introduced in 1929 by the Cancer Commission of the League of Nations Health Organization who set up the Radiological Sub-Commission to create a system that would provide an effective means of communication between institutions around the world.

Dr. Pierre Denoit (1912-1990)

The concept was further championed by a Dr. Pierre Denoix who further broadened and refined the system during the years 1943 to 1952.

The TNM system was adopted by the International Congress of Radiology in 1953 for laryngeal and breast cancer and the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) in 1954. Dr. Denoix continued to further develop the system through the 1960’s resulting in a standard classification system for a total of 23 solid tumour cancers.

In 1959, the American Joint Committee for Cancer Staging and End Results Reporting (AJC) began work on formulating objectives, rules, and regulations for a classification system and reporting of cancer. In 1969, the AJC and UICC agreed that any further staging recommendations would be published in consultation with each other.

In 1977, the first Manual for Staging of Cancer was published and as medical research and practice lead to further discoveries, the manual has been updated over the years and is now in its 8th Edition.

The manual has become the worldwide standard for TNM information and provides a means by which the designation for the state of a cancer at various points in time can be communicated to others to assist in prognosis and determination of the kind of treatment to be applied.

While the TNM system is the most common method for describing cancers that form solid tumours, it is not used for say brain tumours or blood related cancers, such as leukaemia or Hodgkin’s disease. These cancers are usually staged based on their unique or specific characteristics.

The Five Stages of Cancer

Stage 0 

This is the earliest and most treatable form of cancer. Often referred to as carcinoma in situ, the abnormal cells are located at the specific area where they originated, they haven’t spread to nearby tissue and are detected within the top layer of cells at the affected area or organ.

In many cases, doctors will recommend surgery or targeted radiation therapy. This has led to some concern, particularly for women who have been diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer and undergone what some believe to be unnecessary lumpectomy, mastectomy, or even double mastectomy.

At this stage, there is definitely a natural option through change of diet, avoiding processed foods, and taking the necessary natural supplements to boost the immune system.

Stage I

At this point, the abnormal cells have started to clump together and penetrate beneath the top layer of cells.  The cancer is still limited to the original area and has not yet reached the blood stream or the lymph system. This is still considered an “early stage” cancer but again many doctors will insist on implementing some form of immediate treatment protocol, either surgery, radiation, or both.  In some cases they may also recommend hormone therapy.

But again, at this early stage, the prognosis is still very viable for considering the use alternative treatments such as change in diet, use of supplements, and lifestyle changes.  This will help to fight the cancer and prevent it from returning while still avoiding the side effects of the conventional treatments.

Whichever path you choose to follow, Stage I cancer is still very treatable and has a high success rate for curing the majority of patients.

Stage II

This is simply a stage between Stages I and III whereby the cancer cells have started to form a small tumour larger than Stage I but still within the original location. It may have penetrated the surrounding tissue but has not yet spread to other organs within the body.  There are cases where the cancer cells are found in nearby lymph nodes which are also classed as Stage II.

Cancer in the lymph nodes is normally a sign that the cancer has indeed started to spread as some cancer cells may have broken away from the original site, but the doctors may not know the origin, or if other cancer cells have moved to parts of the body.

Conventional treatment may involve radical surgery or radiotherapy.  From an alternative perspective, boosting the immune system is essential to trigger the necessary immune response to fight against the cancer cells and possibly destroy them.

Stage III

By now the tumour has grown significantly and spread into the surrounding tissues and the lymph nodes. Conventional treatments at this stage include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or systemic drug therapies.

The use of alternative therapies at this stage is a more difficult decision to make, but again improving the immune system will reduce the chances of succumbing to other infectious diseases where even a flu bug could be potentially dangerous to a patient undergoing chemotherapy. At the very least, alternative therapies can reduce or alleviate the side effects of the conventional treatments.

Stage IV

This is the most advanced form of cancer whereby the cancer cells have entered the blood stream and spread from their original location to other parts of the body.  Also known as metastatic or secondary cancer, it is by far the most difficult to treat and in some cases cannot be cured in the long term.

Although treatment can help to shrink or control the cancer, it is likely that it will reappear unless the necessary adjustments are made to lifestyle and nutrition.  It is in this regard that alternative treatments can be complimentary to treatments and provide a better chance of survival.

Having said that, there are many success stories of people treating and surviving Stage IV cancer using both conventional and natural therapies, so having Stage IV cancer should not be considered an automatic death sentence.

Living With Cancer

At the time of my diagnosis we did not discuss what ‘stage’ of cancer I had, just the next steps to be taken to determine where the primary cancer was.

It could have been all too easy to fall into despair and despondency, to give up, and lose all hope, but I felt it was important to maintain hope and to arm myself with the knowledge and tools to make a stand and fight the cancer.

Information is essential to help the patient make informed decisions and to discuss the options with their doctor. Treatment decisions should be a personal choice, and understanding the pros and cons of each form of treatment will help them to make that choice.

Social support is critical, especially if treatment of the cancer is going to take a long time. It’s easy for loved ones to be there at the beginning, but they need to understand that the support will be needed for the long haul. Continued encouragement and support will help the patient to retain hope, to feel normal, and to remain positive.  Many studies have shown that strong emotional support and a having a positive outlook can greatly benefit the patient. It is all too important to help the patient maintain the will to live and to not give up.

Help the patient to feel as normal as possible, encourage interest in new hobbies, bring them on trips, laugh and joke; for special occasions such as birthdays or Christmas, celebrate. Just be aware that your friend may tire easily, may not be as strong as they used to be, so be patient, caring, loving.

As a friend to someone who has cancer, the American Cancer Society has an excellent article on ‘How to Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer’.

You might also want to check out this video, a story of five people who made their stand against cancer:

I wish you well, and please remember, cancer is not a death sentence; I beat it, many people have beaten it… So can you!

If you have any questions or want to share your thoughts, feel free to comment below or drop me an email. I will support you as best I can.


Lung Cancer Staging: An Overview of the New Staging System, and Implications for Radiographic Clinical Staging

Wikipedia – TNM Staging System

The Truth About Cancer – 17 Cancer Facts Every Person Needs Know

16 thoughts on “What Are The Stages of Cancer”

  1. This was a very informative post that has increased my awareness on the stages of cancer- I actually never knew that there was a stage “0” and this really does show the importance of an early diagnosis to catch it early. From your language, I am under assumption that you have successfully fought the cancer- really happy to hear that. It looks like you are focused well on maintaining a healthy body and outlook on life- mindset is so important. Not sure if you are into it, but have you looked into meditations for additional relaxation? All the best! AK

    1. Hi Andrea, I’m glad you found the post informative. Not many people do know about stage’0′ and you’re absolutely right, early diagnosis is important. I only checked because the lump in my neck was turning into something more than a discomfort and sore throat. What I do recommend to people now is to do an ‘executive’ blood test that measures the cancer markers, this is at least one way for early detection.

      Meditation… I have tried but haven’t had much success with it; just can’t let go somehow. Do you have any pointers for me? You take care and all the best to you too.

  2. My Mom went through Cancer when I was fourteen and it was heartbreaking to say the least. I am glad that you laid out all of the stages, because I did not understand it then. Your article helps prepare people for what is to come, so they can know what to expect. When more people know, the more there is for us to do to fight the disease.

    Thank you for sharing and I hope you have a great day!

    1. Hi Alex, thanks for dropping by again.  I went through the same experience with my mother in 1987. I really had no idea of what was really going on, the knowledge available at that time was limited and the internet was unknown to the majority of us.  Her strength even on her last day was incredible.

      I hope all is well with you, and I hope things are going well for your father.

      Don’t be a stranger 🙂

  3. Great post here and informative. I have known people who succumbed to cancer and it was very fast. One of my best friends at age 43. I believe there is a path to cure to cancer through proper diet and exercise and attitude and traditional treatment. I live in the hub of cancer and infectious disease research in the Research Triangle in Raleigh Durham. I hear great steps are being made. We’ll written article here.

    1. Sorry to hear about your loss… My mother was only 47. If only I had access to this sort of information then, things may have been different. The ‘research triangle’ sounds interesting; I will have to take a look at that.

      All the best to you 🙂

  4. Very informative post on the stages of cancer. Thank you to your article, now I have a better understanding of different stages of cancer. I remember when my mom was diagnosed with the breast cancer, she was in stage 0, she went through the mainstream approach of treatment, which was lupectamy and radiation. As I became more health conscious and started to become aware of natural remedies. In my research, I found stage 0 does not need such aggressive treatment, if one’s immune system is strong, then it will take care and fight off the abnormal cell. Thank you for your work, keep up with the great work.

    1. Sorry to hear about your mother. As you say the aggressive treatment is not required and if you noticed I make reference to a news article which shows that many women are quite upset that they had received such aggressive treatment, not even treatment I would say, but noting less than butchery. It’s no wonder that people are now starting to question the medical institutions and the apparent pursuit of profits.

  5. Hi Salam,
    I learned a lot from your article. I am one of those that only knew about 1-4 stages of cancer. I had no idea that there was a zero stage. I was one of the few on this earth who hadn’t had a family member with cancer until this past year. And it has progressed really quickly. Although knowing about what the numbers typically mean I didn’t know the exact meaning of the numbers. So reading what each one meant really put clarity to what my family member is going through. I am glad that your cancer battle was successful and I wish you all the best that life has to offer. And thank you for sharing your story and helping me understand what a person going through cancer can and maybe experiencing.


    1. Hi Monica,

      I’m glad to have helped with your understanding. Sorry to hear about your family member.  I hope she/he copes well and finds a way to recovery.  You might want to read an earlier post about how to cope at Christmas and the importance of being as normal as possible, being supportive, patient, and playing your part in giving hope.  If you need anything else, feel free to email or comment further.

      Take care.


  6. Very interesting! I actually knew about the 5 stages but I didn’t know there was a stage 0. Stage 5 pretty much means bed ridden and can’t be cured or rid at that point, right? How much science and research is behind diet and nutrition and how it affects cancer development or recession? I’m a health and fitness nut and I have always wondered about the relationship between illnesses and diseases and nutrition.

    1. Hi Kyle,

      Thanks for dropping by. From the medical point of view, at least in the TNM system, there is no Stage 5. But, within the stages I thru IV, doctors will use a ‘grading’ system that indicates to what extent the cancer cells can be differentiated from healthy cells, so this would be shown as say Stage IVA, IVB, and IVC and so on; different countries may use different notations though.

      I have only come across Stage 5 in veterinary medicine, which essentially means that the animal is indeed riddled with cancer.  For humans, the term ‘Stage 5’ is more of an ‘urban’ terminology used by cancer sufferers that have accepted that they are terminal and do not foresee anyway to recover.

      With respect to the role of diet and nutrition, there is increasing research to determine the efficacy of natural foods or their active ingredients to prevent and/or fight cancer. Although research on live humans is limited, lab results on both human and animal cancer cells indicate that there is strong potential for many natural means to boost the immune system against cancer and to even cause cell death of cancer cells. Without doubt more research is required and at some point clinical trials will need to be done using human subjects.  

      For sure, there is a lot of misinformation and hype out there, and in my opinion it is damaging both the public and the medical profession’s perception of the many natural alternatives that are available. 

      To some extent, there may well be a ‘conspiracy’ on the part of ‘Big Pharma’, when it comes to profits there will always be somebody whose only focus is the bottom line, but I believe that the majority of medical professionals sincerely want what is best for their patient. 

      It is this whole subject that forms the basis of this website and I endeavour to promote and share only information that has some scientific basis.  I urge you to take a look around the site, feel free to share your thoughts or concerns, even critique on what you see. We are all here to learn 🙂

      Stay healthy.


  7. I really admire what you are doing here. I believe natural is the way to go, but it is still controversial to many. Love that you are helping people fight this horrible disease that I have lost so many love ones to. Thank you!

    1. Hi Bella, thanks for the support. Personally, I always opt for the natural path, but it’s not for everybody.
      At the end of the day it’s a personal choice. I just hope I can contribute a little to providing some details of the alternatives and then at least people can ask the right questions to their doctor, discuss all the options, and then make an informed decision. Feel free to share any further thoughts for discussion.

  8. your are doing something big here! many people on this nation need this. natural path should come back to the media in order to educate people and help them out. keep it up Abdusalam!

    1. Thank you Ali for your support. We can all play a role in sharing this information and helping people to remember the natural alternatives. At least they will then have the knowledge to help them make an informed decision on what approach is best for them. They can discuss the options with their doctor, evaluate the pros and cons, and hopefully find the treatment that suits them.

      Thanks for visiting and don’t forget to share 🙂

Leave a Reply to Abdusalam Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *