What Are the Stages of Lymphoma?

Staging is the term oncologists use to define where lymphoma is located and how much it has spread. Once the stage of lymphoma is determined, your physician can recommend a particular course of treatment.

Most cancer teams use the system developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer, known as the TNM staging system.

T = Tumor: Where is the primary tumor and how large is it?

N = Nodes: Has the tumor spread to nearby lymph nodes?

M = Metastasis: Has cancer spread to other parts of the body?

For each letter, there are five numbered stages, from 0 to 4, depending on how much the cancer has spread. The lower the number, the more the cancer cells look like normal cells and the easier they are to treat and cure. A higher number means it has spread more deeply.

The place where cancer originates is called the primary site. Cancer can spread from the primary site to other parts of the body. It’s important to understand that even if cancer is found in other parts of your body, it’s still considered lymphoma. For instance, if colon cancer has spread to the liver, it’s called metastatic colon cancer, not liver cancer.

Your physician may also add one of the following letters to your stage, depending on your individual diagnosis:

B = You have symptoms such as night sweats, weight loss or fever

A = You don't have any B symptoms

E = The cancer has spread to an organ outside the lymphatic system

S = Lymphoma has spread to your spleen

Stages of Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma is staged the same way as non-Hodgkin lymphoma (stages 0-4 and B, A, E and/or S), with the addition of the letter X.

X = Indicates that you have bulky disease, meaning a tumor in your chest has grown to a third the width of your chest or a tumor elsewhere in your body is at least 4 inches across.

Be sure to talk to your physician about your particular stage of cancer and how that will impact your treatment.

For more information about the stages of lymphoma, please visit our Health Library.