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): how deeply has the tumour has grown into your kidney
  • Node (N): is there cancer in your lymph nodes (N)
  • Metastasis (M): Has the cancer has spread to other parts of your body?

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 serious cancer.

  • Stage 0: This means 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: This also means 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: Here 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: In this stage 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: This means 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.

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