The cervical cancer staging system
The most commonly used staging system for most kinds of cancer, including cervical cancer, is the TNM system. Both the AJCC and the International Union for Cancer Control maintain the TNM classification system and update it at least once a decade, based on advances in understanding cancer.
The system gets its name from the letters used to label information about a malignancy: T stands for the original, primary tumor; N indicates whether or not there is lymph node involvement; M designates if any metastasis has been found.
The T category is combined with other letters and numbers to provide more information about the size of a tumor and whether it has grown into the deeper tissues in the cervix or nearby areas. For example, Tis indicates cancer cells are only on the top layer of the cervix and haven’t gone into deeper tissues (this is also sometimes call pre-cancer or cancer in situ), and TX means the tumor is so small it can’t be measured. Numbers after the letter T are used to indicate if the tumor is large or small and whether it has spread into nearby areas. The higher the number, such as T4, the larger and more invasive the tumor appears to be.
The N category is used to show whether cancer has been found in nearby lymph nodes. N0 means lymph nodes are free of cancer, and NX means the nearby lymph nodes are unable to be evaluated. Numbers are added to the N (such as N1, N2, or N3) in the staging process — the higher the number, the greater the spread of cancer to close-by lymph nodes.
The M category notes whether the cancer has metastasized to other areas of body. A designation of M0 means cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of the body; M1 indicates the cancer has metastasized to distant organs beyond the pelvic area, such as distant lymph nodes, lungs, bones, or liver.
March 18, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN