What is Your Chance of Recovery Following the Diagnosis of Cancer?


Cancer stage helps predict your chance of recovery.  The cancer’s stage tells where the cancer is located and its size, how far it has grown into nearby tissues and if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body.  Before starting cancer treatment, doctors may use imaging scans or a biopsy to determine a cancer’s stage. 

Stage of the Cancer

Most types of cancer have four stages, stages I to IV.  The stage of a cancer describes the size of a tumor and how far it has spread from where it originated. The higher the number, the more advanced the cancer is.

Localized (Stages I and II): Cancer is limited to the place where it started, with no sign that it has spread.

Regional (Stage III):  Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, tissues or organs.  Cancer in the lymph nodes is a sign that the cancer has started to spread.  This is called having positive lymph nodes. It means the cancer cells have broken away from the original cancer and has spread to the lymph nodes.

Distant (Stage IV):  Cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

TNM Staging System

Doctors use the TNM staging system for most types of cancer. The TNM system uses letters and numbers to describe the tumor (T), lymph nodes (N) and whether or not the cancer has spread or metastasized (M).  Both letter and and number tell you something about the cancer.

T: Size of the tumor, with numbers 1 to 4.

N: Lymph nodes, with numbers 0 to 3.

M: Metastases, or whether the cancer has spread to another part of the body, with numbers 0 to 1.  You may need treatment that circulates throughout your whole body if your cancer has spread. These are called systemic treatments.

The letter “p” is sometimes used before the letters TNM (pT4). This stands for pathological stage.  “c” stands for clinical stage (cT4).  This means that the stage is based on what the doctor knows about the cancer before surgery.

Grade of the Cancer Cells

The grade describes the appearance of the cancer cells. The cancer’s grade may predict how quickly the cancer will spread. The lower the grade, the better the prognosis.

High grade cancer cells tend to grow and spread more quickly than low-grade cancer cells.  Grading depends on several factors, including how different the cancer cells look from normal cells under a microscope (known as differentiation) and other features of the tumor.  High grade, or grade III tumor cells are poorly differentiated.  This means that the tumor cells do not look like normal cells. 

Low grade cancer cells look more like normal cells and tend to grow and spread more slowly than high grade cancer cells.

Grade I: Cancer cells that resemble normal cells and are not growing rapidly.

Grade II: Cancer cells that do not look like normal cells and are growing faster than normal cells.

Grade III: Cancer cells that look abnormal and may grow or spread more aggressively.


Biomarkers, also called tumor markers, are substances found in higher-than-normal levels in the cancer itself, or in blood, urine or tissues of those with cancer.  Biomarkers can help determine how likely some types of cancer will spread. Biomarkers also help doctors choose the best treatment.