Skin Cancer Stages / Staging
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Cancer staging is the process of finding out how advanced and widespread a cancer has become.
Staging may depend on the type of cancer. For non-melanoma skin cancers that have a low likelihood of spreading, like basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas, the staging process may not be necessary. Melanomas are more likely to spread quickly, so the skin cancer staging process becomes a very useful tool when it comes time to plan for treatment:
- Non-melanoma Skin Cancers - Basal cell carcinomas rarely spread and may not be staged. The chance that squamous cell carcinomas will spread is slightly higher and may be staged using the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM System.
- Melanoma - Melanomas are more aggressive and likely to spread. This type of skin cancer is usually staged by the AJCC TNM system or the Clark levels. Read more about the melanoma skin cancer stages.
TNM System of Skin Cancer Staging
The American Joint Commission on Cancer has developed a uniform system for describing the stages of skin cancer. This system allows doctors to determine how advanced a skin cancer is, and to share that information with each other in a meaningful way. This system, known as the TNM system, is composed of three key pieces of information:
- Tumor (T) describes the tumor’s size, location and how deep it has grown into the skin.
- Nodes (N) indicates whether or not cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes, or the channels connecting the lymph nodes.
- Metastasis (M) refers to whether the cancer cells have spread to distant organs.
TNM Stage Grouping
Each type of skin cancer has slightly different staging criteria. After the TNM components have been scored, an overall stage will be determined. In general, the stages of skin cancer are as follows:
- Stage 0 - The cancer cells are confined to the epidermis (the top layer of the skin) and have not spread. At this stage, the cancer is usually cured by surgery.
- Stage I – The cancer cells have grown deeper into the skin, but have not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
- Stage II – The cancer cells have grown deeper into the skin, or have more high-risk features, but have not spread to the lymph nodes or beyond.
- Stage III – The cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes, but not to distant organs.
- Stage IV – The cancer cells have spread beyond the skin and regional lymph nodes to distant organs such as the liver, lungs or brain or distant lymph nodes and areas of the skin.
This skin cancer staging information, as well as your medical history and other relevant factors will be carefully reviewed by your care team at CTCA to develop a customized treatment plan for you.
To learn more about the specific staging system for each type of skin cancer, see:
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