In my last post I gave an overview of the different stages of cancer, Stages I thru IV, and while many people have heard of these, not many were aware that there is a Stage 0. In the comments for that post, somebody had made a reference Stage 5 cancer, so today I want to clarify and address this misconception.
So What Is Stage 5 Cancer?
Well, there isn’t a stage 5 cancer, it doesn’t exist.
In all my research, I found no reference to a Stage 5 cancer.
There are other clinical conditions, say for example kidney disease, that make reference to a Stage 5 kidney failure, but not for cancer.
In addition to the TNM staging system as defined by AJCC, I have found other recognized systems that are used for certain types of cancer; these are used in some cases when the TNM system is not applicable because TNM is intended to grade solid tumours and also not all cancers grow and spread in the same way, for example:
- Brain cancer only affects and spreads to parts of the brain and the central nervous system. It also denotes grading using stages 0 thru 4.
- The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (Fédération Internationale de Gynécologie et d’Obstétrique) use the FIGO staging system to determine the prognosis for cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, vaginal cancer, and so on; again using stages 0 thru 4.
- Childhood cancers are usually staged according to other staging systems specific to the type of cancer, so this quite unique.
- Blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma do not normally form solid tumours, and again they have their own unique staging systems.
The only Stage 5 cancer reference that I could find was in veterinary medicine when it used for the prognosis of lymphoma in cats and dogs, and Stage 5 in this case means that the animal is indeed riddled with cancer and has a life expectancy of 1-2 years with treatment.
5 Stages ≠ 5 Stages
Have you ever come across the philosophical argument that 1+1 does not always equal 2? Some people can spend hours, even a lifetime, debating this, calculating mathematical ‘proofs’, deriving their scientific evidence, there’s even a movie titled ‘Lucy‘ in which the lead character’s ability defies human logic and she mentions the fact that we have been programmed to accept that 1+1 equals 2, but she then goes on to say that this is not necessarily true.
Fortunately the logic of cancer having 5 stages but not being equal to Stages 1 thru 5 is not so complicated, and as already explained the five stages represent the Stages 0 thru 4.
So where did the term ‘Stage 5 Cancer’ come from?
I suspect that since not many people are aware of Stage 0, they may have confused the fact that there are five stages with the notion that there is a stage 5, simple as that, after all it’s a logical assumption. Recognising that there is a Stage 0 easily clears up the confusion.
Having said that, the term ‘Stage 5 Cancer’ appears to be gaining acceptance as an ‘urban’ terminology.
I have come across some instances of it’s use as a reference to somebody that has sadly succumbed to the disease and passed on. But I much prefer it’s use as reference to those that are still alive and have overcome the psychological impact of suffering from cancer.
This concept is promoted by a lady who goes by the name of Jackie Savi Cannon; she proposes that rather than being a medical phase, Stage 5 is
“more the place you must release yourself to, in order to actually build a life you can love after cancer“
It’s a stage of overcoming the emotional trauma associated with cancer, overcoming the victim mentality, and having the ability to move forward in life. It’s an awesome viewpoint, so positive.
The Many ‘Stages’ of Cancer
To recap, the stages of cancer do indeed have many subdivisions.
Cancer staging is the process of determining the size of the primary tumor and indicating the extent to which it has spread in the body. Doctors use this grading to develop a prognosis and to consider the most appropriate treatment for the patient.
The most common staging system is the TNM system where the ‘T’ refers to the original tumor, the ‘N’ indicates if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and the ‘M’ stands for metastasis indicating if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Each of these letters will have a number or letter associated with it to indicate the severity of the cancer in terms of size, location, depth of growth, the extent of spread to the lymph nodes and/or to other parts of the body.
Since not all cancer types are the same, some may have additional subcategories and these are indicated by an additional letter, for example, you may see something like ‘T3a’, or ‘T3b’.
All of these factors are taken into account to determine the values for T, N, and M; the doctors will then use this information to assign an overall grading and this is where the Stages 0, I, II, III, and IV come in.
Stage 0 is normally used for an in situ cancer that is in a very early stage, followed by Stage I, which is the least advanced, through to Stage IV, which is the most advanced. Again,these stages may also be subdivided using letters such as A and B which give an indication of how much the cancer cells can be differentiated from healthy cells.
The lower the stage number, the better the prognosis.
Clearly, there is no Stage 5, but as you can see, within the five stages there are a number of subdivisions. I trust that this has addressed the issue and answered the question, ‘what is stage 5 cancer’.
Want to Know More?
For more information about grading, I strongly suggest discussing the subject with a qualified medical professional.
All I have attempted to do here is provide an overview of the staging system(s) in an effort to dispel the notion that there is a medical definition for Stage 5 cancer and to clear up any confusion.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and as always I welcome your comments, questions, even criticism. We are all here to learn 🙂
Be healthy and be happy.