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Two of the most commonly used staging systems are a numbered staging system| and the TNM staging system. The TNM system is more detailed and is described here.
Doctors put a number next to the ‘T’ to describe the size and spread of the cancer. There are two T stages for soft tissue sarcomas and each is divided into ‘a’ and ‘b’:
The tumour is 5cm or less in size.
The tumour is near the surface of the body (superficial).
The tumour is deep in the body.
The tumour is more than 5cm in size.
The tumour is superficial.
This describes whether there are any lymph nodes near the tumour that have cancer in them. The ‘N’ may have an ‘X’ or a number written next to it, which gives extra information about the nodes that were examined:
The lymph nodes were not examined.
The lymph nodes were examined but no cancer was found.
There are cancer cells in at least one lymph node.
If cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes, the nodes are said to be positive. It’s uncommon for soft tissue sarcomas to spread to the lymph nodes. Positive nodes (N1) are classified as a stage 3 sarcoma|.
Metastasis means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the liver| or lungs|.
The ‘M’ may have a number written next to it, which gives extra information about whether the cancer has spread or not:
The cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.
The cancer has spread to another part of the body. This is called secondary or metastatic cancer.
The grade of the cancer| is also included in the TNM staging system for soft tissue sarcomas:
The cancer is low-grade
The cancer is moderate- or intermediate-grade
The cancer is high-grade
The grade of the cancer isn’t known.
Our cancer support specialists| can tell you more about TNM staging. It’s also important to talk to your doctor for detailed information about your situation.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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