Stage and Grade

You will hear two terms, “Stage” and “Grade”, used to describe cancers. Dividing cancers into these categories is helpful in determining appropriate treatment and prognosis. These terms also help physicians to communicate effectively about issues important to cancer care.

“Stage” refers to the location of a cancer at the time of diagnosis. All gynecologic cancers are divided into 4 “Stages”. Those that have not grossly spread beyond the organ of origin at the time of diagnosis are generally classified as Stage 1 malignancies. If the cancer is not found until it has spread extensively it may be classified as Stage 3 or 4.

The stage given a cancer at the initial diagnosis does not change. As an example, imagine two women diagnosed with a uterine cancer. At the time of initial diagnosis one woman is found to have spread (metastasis) of her cancer to the lungs and is classified as “Stage 4”. The other woman is initially diagnosed when the cancer is grossly limited to the uterus but 1 year later is found to have metastases to the lung. This patient would be classified as “Stage 1” recurrent to the lungs.

“Grade” refers to the appearance of of the individual cancer cells under the microscope. Gynecologic cancers are generally divided into three Grades. Grade 1 cancers have an appearance not too dissimilar to the normal native tissue from which it arises. Grade 3 cancers bear little resemblance to the tissue of origin.

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