What are the stages of oesophageal cancer?

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Staging means finding out the size of the tumour and if it has spread anywhere else in your body. Staging will help your doctor to plan the best treatment for you.

The staging system normally used in oesophageal cancer is called TNM. 
This stands for:

  • Tumour (T): The size of the tumour and how far it has grown into the lining of the oesophagus. Doctors put a number next to the T to describe the size and spread of the cancer.?
  • Node (N): Is there cancer in your lymph nodes? N0 means there is no cancer in the nodes. If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (positive nodes) the N will have a number to describe how many lymph nodes are affected. NX means the doctors cannot tell if the nodes are affected.
  • Metastasis (M): Has the cancer has spread to other parts of your body? The M may have a number next to it. This gives extra information about where the cancer has spread to.

Your doctor often uses this information to give your cancer a number stage – from 1 to 4.
A higher number, such as stage 4, means a more advanced cancer.

  • Stage 0: The cancer is at a very early stage. Cancer cells are found in the lining of your oesophagus but are completely within the lining. This stage is also known as carcinoma in situ. 
  • Stage 1: The cancer is at an early stage. The cancer cells are found only in the surface layers of the lining of your oesophagus. Or it may be found in only a small part of your oesophagus. There is no sign of it spreading anywhere. 
  • Stage 2: The cancer has spread to the muscle layer of your oesophagus or to nearby lymph nodes. But it has not spread to any other organs. If the cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes, it is stage 2A. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, it is stage 2B. 
  • Stage 3: The cancer has spread beyond the wall of your oesophagus. It may also have spread to nearby lymph nodes and other tissues next to your oesophagus. But there are no signs of it spreading to other parts of your body.  
  • Stage 4: The cancer is advanced and has spread to your lymph nodes and other parts of your body. For example, your liver, lungs or stomach. Cancer in another part of your body is called secondary or metastatic oesophageal cancer. 

Staging can be hard to understand, so ask your doctor and nurse for more information if you need it.

For more information

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