Stages of Cancer

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The stages of cancer reflect how the cancer is growing, as stage one indicates a non-growing or slow-growing cancer in one area of the body, and stage three indicates growth to other parts of the body. Identify the different stages of cancer with medical information from a practicing oncologist in this free video on types of cancer.

Part of the Video Series: Cancer Prevention & Treatment
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Video Transcript

Hi I'm Dr. Kenneth Fink, I'm a medical oncologist at Zimmer Cancer Center at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina. Stages of cancer is an interesting topic. People and even some doctors don't quite understand how cancers go through the stages, how they get started, and how they can become so advanced. The best we can tell cancer cells get started very, can start many, many years before they are actually detected. They may start out as a, most cancers start out obviously as normal cells, but they undergo some mutations, and actually those mutations lead over many year period of time to yet more mutations that lead to the cells becoming abnormal to the point that they actually become malignant. As the cells acquire mutations in their DNA they accumulate as a ball, and then start growing some new blood vessels into them. And as they do that the cells may start to leave the site of origin, and then can spread into other parts of the body. It's interesting that the primary tumor may be quite ahead in time as in comparison to the cells that have spread. So we may find a cancer that we think is confined to one particular area, but in fact they may the cells may have already spread. But we can't find those. In general when we find a cancer that seems to be confined to one area we call that stage one. So a patient may hear they have stage one cancer, meaning the cancer is confined to one area. The patient may hear that they have stage two cancer, this tends to mean that the cancer is possibly confined to one area, but may have spread into the lymph nodes, or may have spread a little bit deeper into the structure of origin. Say a colon cancer where the tumor has invaded beyond the interlining of the colon, and into the muscle of the colon. That would be considered a T2 lesion, and then if it has spread yet further into the surrounding fat of the colon that would be a T3 lesion. What we call tumor three or T3, and that might be called stage 2. If a person hears they have stage three cancer this means cancer has spread a bit beyond that, and may have be involving the local area in quite a bit more severe way. There may be lymph node involvement, and there may be a bigger tumor that has invaded some adjacent structures making it a bit more locally advanced. When you say you have stage four cancer this generally means that cancer has spread outside of the site of origin. So stage four means it may have originated for example in the breast, or the prostate, but now we have found that there are deposits of cancer in the bone. And as I say this event where the cancer has spread may have occurred quite a bit earlier, and the life of the cancer was not detected at first. So the stage four may or may not occur at the beginning. You may find that you have stage one, a patient may have a stage one or a stage two cancer, but later in life maybe a year or two, or even as many as five years later has been told their cancer has spread, and that they now have stage four cancer. And that's really the way staging of cancer works.

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