'Staging' the cancer
Staging is the process of assessing the extent of a cancer.
The ‘staging system’ used for cancer of the uterus is the ‘FIGO system’, which was developed by the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics.
Stage 1 Cancer of the uterus
Stage 1 cancers are the easiest to treat. The cancer is limited to the uterus. There are two categories of stage 1 uterine cancer:
- 1A means that the cancer may have grown into the muscle wall (myometrium) of the uterus, but no more than halfway.
- 1B means the cancer has grown halfway or more into the muscle wall of the uterus.
Stage 2 Cancer of the uterus
This means the cancer has spread to the cervix.
Stage 3 Cancer of the uterus
This stage means the cancer has spread further. There are three categories of stage 3 uterine cancer:
- 3A means the cancer has grown into the ovaries.
- 3B means the cancer has spread into the vagina or into the tissues surrounding the uterus (parametrium).
- 3C means the cancer has spread to nearby lymph glands.
Stage 4 Cancer of the uterus
Stage 4 means the cancer has spread to another body organ.
There are two categories of stage 4 cancer of the uterus:
- 4A means the cancer has spread to the bowel and bladder.
- 4B means the cancer has spread to other organs that are further away, such as lungs, liver, bones or brain.
Grading of your cancer
Cancers can grow quickly or more slowly. Doctors usually give a grade to the cancer depending on how the cells look under the microscope. The appearance of the cells will give the doctor an idea about how quickly or slowly the cancer is likely to grow, and the appearance decides the grade of the cancer. The more like normal uterus cells they look, the lower the grade of the cancer.
You may hear your doctor use the word differentiation. Differentiation means how developed or mature a cell is. So grade 1 (G1) cancer cells are well differentiated and look very like normal cells. Grade 2 cancer cells are moderately differentiated. Grade 3 cancer cells are poorly differentiated and look very abnormal. So the more abnormal the cancer cells look, the higher the grade of the cancer (G3 or G4).
Generally, low grade cancers tend to grow more slowly and are less likely to spread than high grade cancers. Most endometrial uterus cancers are the low grade, G1 types.
Source: Taken from CancerHelp UK, the patient information website of Cancer Research UK, on 9 May 2012: http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org/type/womb-cancer/ treatment/stages-of-womb-cancer.
See “The Uterus” for the diagram of a woman’s reproductive system. You may hear a number plus a letter (for example, Stage 1A, Stage 3C). These are ways of further staging the disease. Ask your doctor about the stage of your cancer.