Staging of pancreatic cancer
The stage of a cancer is a term used to describe its size and whether it has spread beyond its original site.
Knowing the extent of the cancer helps the doctors decide on the best treatment for you.
A commonly used staging system uses numbers to describe the stage of the cancer:
Stage 1 This is the earliest stage. The cancer is contained inside the pancreas, 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 anywhere else in the body.
Stage 2 The cancer has started to grow outside the pancreas into nearby tissues and/or there is cancer in lymph nodes near the pancreas.
Stage 3 The cancer has spread into large blood vessels near the pancreas but hasn’t spread to distant sites of the body such as the liver or lungs.
Stage 4 The cancer has spread to distant sites such as the liver or lungs.
Doctors often call stages 1 and 2 resectable or early-stage cancer. Resectable means a surgeon may be able to operate
to remove (resect) the tumour. Fewer than 1 in 5 cancers of the pancreas (20%) are diagnosed at this stage.
Stage 3 cancer is often called locally advanced cancer. It may also be called unresectable cancer, although very occasionally a person with stage 3 cancer may be able to have surgery to try to remove the cancer. About 2 in 5 cancers of the pancreas (35%–40%) are diagnosed at stage 3.
Stage 4 cancer is often called metastatic or advanced cancer. This means the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. About half of pancreatic cancers (45%–55%) are diagnosed at this stage.
TNM staging system
Your doctors may also describe your cancer using the TNM staging system. This staging system is more complex, and can give more precise information about the stage of your tumour.
T refers to the size of the tumour and whether it has begun to spread to nearby structures, such as the blood vessels.
N refers to whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. N0 means no lymph nodes are affected while N1 means there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes.
M refers to whether the cancer has spread to another part of the body such as the liver or lungs (secondary or metastatic cancer). M0 means the cancer has not spread (metastasised) to other parts of the body. M1 means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.