The stage of a cancer is determined by the TNM staging system:

  • The ‘T’ stands for tumour size.
  • The ‘N’ stands for lymph node involvement.
  • The ‘M’ stands for distant metastases, or cancer spread to other areas of the body.

Staging helps doctors determine how serious the cancer is and how best to treat it. Staging systems often reference very specific anatomical structures. Please reference the anatomy page to learn more about these terms.

Staging is generally based on the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) 8th edition guidelines. To learn more, see the AJCC TNM Staging Table and the TNM Staging Tool below.

TNM Staging Table, from the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC)

T N M Stage
T1 N0 M0 I
T2 N0 M0 II
T3 N0 M0 III
T1,2,3 N1 M0 III
T4a N0,1 M0 IVA
T1,2,3,4a N2 M0 IVA
Any T N3 M0 IVB
T4b Any N M0 IVB
Any T Any N M1 IVC

American Joint Committee on Cancer, 8th Ed. 2017