Stage 1 cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on April 29, 2022.

Stage 1 cancer is often referred to as early-stage cancer. It occurs when cancer develops in the body but has not spread to distant regions and has not grown deeply into nearby tissue.

What is stage 1 cancer?

Stage 1 cancer is cancer that's small and localized to one area, that hasn't spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Even if the cancer spreads or improves, it will still be referred to by the stage at which it was diagnosed. Cancers at the same stage are often treated similarly. For example, treatment for stage 1 cancer generally includes surgery.

Stage 1 cancer in common cancers

Stage 1 breast cancer

Stage 1 breast cancer is an early stage of invasive breast cancer, in which the tumor measures up to 2 cm and no lymph nodes are involved. The cancer cells have spread beyond the original location and into the surrounding breast tissue.

Learn more about breast cancer stages

Stage 1 lung cancer

In non-small cell lung cancers, which account for more than 80 percent of lung cancer diagnoses, stage 1 lung cancer means the cancer may have formed in underlying lung tissues but has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Learn more about lung cancer stages

Stage 1 prostate cancer

The cancer is confined to the prostate. It cannot be detected during a digital rectal exam and is typically expected to grow slowly.

Learn more about prostate cancer stages

Stage 1 colorectal cancer

The cancer has grown into the intestinal wall, through the mucosa (the inner lining) and into the submucosa. It also may have entered the muscle. The cancer does not appear to have spread to lymph nodes or distant organs.

Learn more about colorectal cancer stages

Stage 1 melanoma

The cancer cells have grown into the skin but have not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Learn more about melanoma stages

Staging and grading for stage 1 cancer

Staging cancer determines the degree to which it has grown and where it’s located in the body. In most cases, cancer is staged using some form of the TNM system, which stands for:

  • T (tumor), or the size of the original tumor
  • N (node), or whether the cancer is present in the lymph nodes
  • M (metastasis), or whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body

Some cancers, such as blood cancers, and brain and spinal cord tumors, use different staging systems. For instance, brain cancer is usually graded rather than staged, based on factors including:

  • The size and location of the tumor
  • The type of tissues or cells affected
  • The likelihood that part or all the tumor can be removed with surgery
  • The spread of the cancer
  • The possibility the cancer has spread beyond the brain or central nervous system

In grade 1 brain cancer, the tumor grows slowly and rarely spreads into nearby tissues. It also may be possible to remove the tumor with surgery.

Stage 1 cancer treatment

The treatment options for stage 1 cancer depend on the type and location of the cancer. In some cases, stage 1 cancer treatment involves chemotherapy, radiation therapy, medications, surgery or a combination of approaches. 

Because stage 1 cancer hasn’t spread, the treatment options aren’t typically as aggressive as in more advanced-stage cancers, and in some cases (such as with prostate cancer), the patient may be advised to hold off on treatment as the care team monitors the cancer’s behavior. This is called “watch and wait,” “active surveillance” or a “watchful waiting” approach.

Stage 1 cancer prognosis

Survival rate estimates for patients with stage 1 cancer vary based on several factors, including:


  • Type of cancer
  • Age
  • Overall health before beginning cancer treatment
  • Grade of the cancer

Many patients with stage 1 cancer live for years as long as the cancer is treated and managed.


A few factors to keep in mind:


  • Many treatments are available to help fight cancer.
  • The body’s response to treatment may differ from other patients’ experience.

Patients should collaborate with their care teams to share decision-making at each stage of treatment.


Stage 1 cancer may spread, but once it's been staged, it maintains that staging designation throughout treatment, even if it progresses to more advanced stages. If the cancer has not yet been diagnosed or staged, those with stage 1 characteristics that spread to the lymph nodes are technically considered stage 2 cancer and would be staged as such if diagnosed at that point. If what started as stage 1 cancer metastasizes (or spreads) to other organs before it's diagnosed, it would be assigned a more advanced stage (such as stage 3 or 4, depending in how far the cancer spreads from its original location) at diagnosis.


If stage 1 caner is treated and comes back, it's referred to as recurrent cancer. Because this may occur following treatment, it's extremely important to follow up with the care team for all scheduled visits and diagnostic tests.


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