Stomach cancer is a relatively rare but nonetheless serious disease that needs to be treated as soon as possible.
Before treatment can start, however, the severity of the cancer – namely whether it has spread and, if so, to what extent – must be assigned a numerical “stage” by the patient’s gastroenterologist or oncologist. This way, the patient can receive the optimal course of treatment.
The earliest stage of stomach cancer is stage 0, when the cancer has not spread to other organs. From there, the stages of stomach cancer range from stages I (1) through stage IV (4). The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread; the higher the number, the more advanced the cancer has become.
How Is a Stage Determined in Stomach Cancer?
The staging system for stomach cancer is based on several critical factors: the size of the tumor, the location of the tumor, how much it has spread to the lymph nodes, and how far it has spread to organs such as the liver or lungs.
Here is a basic explanation of what each stage of stomach cancer signifies:
Stage 0 indicates that although there are abnormal-looking cells in the stomach lining or there are cancer cells only in the top layer of cells of the mucosa – the innermost layer of the stomach – there is no evidence the cancer cells have moved into deeper layers of tissue.
Stages 1 and 2 indicate that the tumor has grown and the cancer has started to spread (or metastasize) into the five deeper layers of the stomach.
Stage 3 indicates that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage 4 indicates that the cancer has already spread to organs such as the liver, brain, lungs, or the peritoneum (the protective lining around the digestive organs).
What Is the Staging of Stomach Cancer?
There are four different parts of the staging process for stomach cancer. These include:
- Clinical staging, which is based on a physical examination, imaging tests, and biopsies of the affected areas of the stomach.
- Pathologic staging, which combines the clinical staging with surgical results – such as the removal of a tumor. This provides a more thorough and accurate determination of the tumor.
- Post-therapy staging, which begins with an estimate of how much cancer likely remains after the patient has received chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment before surgery, or when no surgery is performed. This can be done using the clinical staging and/or pathologic staging guidelines described above.
- Restaging, which is done to assess the extent of the cancer if it comes back after treatment and remission to determine the best treatment options.
Contact a Skilled Stomach Cancer Physician
Depending on the stage of one’s stomach cancer, treatment options may include surgery, medications, radiation, or chemotherapy. For more in-depth details, ask your doctor at Austin Gastroenterology to explain these stages in terms you understand.