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The stage of a cancer is a term used to describe its size and whether it has spread beyond the area of the body where it started.
Knowing the extent of the cancer helps the doctors to decide on the most appropriate treatment.
A commonly used staging system uses numbers to describe the stage of the cancer:
This is the earliest stage. The cancer can only be found inside the pancreas itself, although it may be quite large. There is no cancer in the lymph nodes close to the pancreas and no sign that it has spread to anywhere else in the body.
The cancer has started to grow into the duodenum, or the bile duct, or tissues surrounding the pancreas and/or there is cancer in lymph nodes near your pancreas.
The cancer has spread into the stomach, spleen, large bowel or into large blood vessels near the pancreas.
The cancer has spread to other body organs such as the liver or lungs.
Doctors often call stages 1 and 2 resectable or early-stage cancer. This means they may be able to operate to remove (resect) the tumour. Fewer than 20% of cancers of the pancreas are diagnosed at this stage.
Stage 3 cancer is often called locally-advanced (unresectable) cancer. About 35%–40% of cancers of the pancreas are diagnosed at this stage.
Stage 4 cancer is often called metastatic or advanced cancer. This means it has spread to other parts of your body. About 45%–55% of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at this stage.
Another staging system known as the TNM system is commonly used. This can give more precise information about the extent of the cancer.
Content last reviewed: 1 December 2010
Next planned review: 2013
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