What Are the Stages of Prostate Cancer?

Staging is the term oncologists use to define where prostate cancer is located and how much it has spread. Once the stage of prostate cancer 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 prostate cancer is found in other parts of your body, it’s still considered prostate cancer. For instance, if colon cancer has spread to the liver, it’s called metastatic colon cancer, not liver cancer.

To form the best treatment plan for you, pathologists may also study how the cells look, this as known as the grade of the cancer.

A pathologist will determine the cancer’s grade, from 1 to 5. Low-grade cancers are more similar to normal tissue. High-grade cancers differ from normal tissue in the way cells are organized, and in cell size and shape. The higher the grade, the faster the cancer is likely to be growing. The pathologist will give a report to your urologist.

The Gleason score

Often there is more than one cancer grade within a tumor. The two most common grades found in the tumor are added together to get the Gleason score, a number between 2 and 10. This score helps your urologist figure out the appropriate treatment for your prostate cancer.

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

For more information on the stages of prostate cancer, please visit our Health Library.