Cancer staging is a term used to refer to describing the tumor's size and whether or not it has spread beyond the area where it began.

Staging systems are constantly being updated to be able to help doctors plan the best treatment and help give them an idea of the probably outcome of treatment.

A commonly used staging system uses numbers to describe the stage the cancer is in:

  • Numeric staging

Stage 1

This is the earliest stage. The cancer is confined to the interior of the pancreas, although the tumor may be quite large. There is no cancer in the lymph nodes near the pancreas and no signs indicate that it has spread to the rest of the body.

Stage 2

The cancer has begun to spread outside the pancreasto the nearby tissues and/or there is cancer in the lymph nodes located nearthe pancreas.

Stage 3

The cancer has spread to the large blood vessels near the pancreas, though it has not spread to far-away places in the body, such as the liver or the lungs.

Stage 4

The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the liver or the lungs.

Doctors often call cancers in stages 1 and 2 "resectable" or "early-stage cancer." Resectable means a surgeon may be able to perform an operation and remove (resect) the tumor. Fewer than 1 in 5 pancreatic cancers are diagnosed in this stage.

Stage 3 is often called locally advanced cancer; between 35 and 40% of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at this stage.

Stage 4 is often called metastatic or advanced cancer; approximately half of all pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at this stage.

  • TNM staging

This system is more complex and can provide more precise information about the stage of the tumor.

T refers to the size of the tumor and the degree to which it has spread; it is numbered 0 to 4.

N refers to whether the nearby lymph nodes have cancer cells. N0 means no lymph nodes are affected, while N1 means that there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes.

M indicates whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastatic). M0 if it hasn't spread, M1 if it has.