The stage of a cancer describes how far it has grown from where it started and whether it has spread. Test results provide a lot of information, but the exact stage of the cancer won’t be known until after surgery to remove it. Knowing the stage of the cancer helps your doctor decide on the best treatment for you.
Doctors often use the TNM system to stage bladder cancer. This system combines the following to give the overall stage of the cancer:
- T is how far the tumour has grown into the bladder and how far it has spread into the surrounding tissues
- N is whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
- M is whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This is called secondary or metastatic cancer.
Invasive and advanced bladder cancer is staged as T2–T4. Your doctor or specialist nurse can tell you more about your stage of bladder cancer:
- T2 – the cancer has grown into the muscle of the bladder wall
- T3 – the cancer has grown through the muscle of the bladder and into the fat layer surrounding it
- T4 – the cancer has spread into the prostate (in men), or the womb or vagina (in women). It is also when the cancer has spread into the wall of the tummy (abdomen) or pelvis.
- N0 – there is no cancer in the lymph nodes
- N1 – the cancer is in one of the lymph nodes near the bladder in the pelvis
- N2 – the cancer is in more than one lymph node in the pelvis
- N3 – there is cancer in one or more of the lymph nodes further from the bladder but within the tummy.
- M0 – the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body
- M1 – the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, the lungs, the liver, or lymph nodes outside the tummy.
Doctors may use other terms to describe bladder cancer:
- Invasive – the cancer is in the muscle layer of the bladder or has spread into the fat layer. But it has not spread outside the bladder.
- Locally advanced – the cancer has spread outside the bladder into the nearby tissues, prostate, vagina, ovaries, womb or back passage.
- Advanced – the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, liver, lungs and bones.