There are many different types of cancer that affect the body in different ways.
If you, or somebody you’re close to is living with the condition – you may have heard doctors talk about cancer in relation to stages.
Ever cancer patient is different, but understanding the stages of the disease is important for doctors, patients and relatives alike when it comes to the treatment and day-to-day management of the condition.
What Causes Cancer?
To interpret the stages of cancer and how they are defined, you first need to understand how cancer works within the body.
Cancer is caused when DNA mutations within cells cause the cells to behave abnormally.
The unnatural growth of unnatural cells is essentially what causes cancer to develop and infiltrate bodily organs.
What is Cancer Staging?
Cancer staging is used by doctors and specialists to determine the extent to which the cancer has grown within in the body.
From the very first diagnosis, doctors will carry out a number of assessments to try and pinpoint the severity of the cancer in terms of its location in the body and whether it has spread to any other organs or tissues.
However, cancer staging is not simply a question of “putting a label” on somebody’s cancer.
It’s an integral part of deciding what sort of treatment a patient should receive – whether that’s chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted cancer drugs or even surgery.
There are various cancer staging systems that cancer specialists will use depending on the type of cancer.
First of all, in many cases – doctors will use the TNM staging system to assess how big the cancer is and if it has spread.
T – stands for tumour.
N – stands for Node (as in Lymph Node).
M – stands for Metastasis.
All three of these factors are graded in relation to:
- The size of the cancer
- Whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
- Whether the cancer has spread to another organ/part of the body
Once these factors have been graded, the cancer can then be categorised under the numbered staging system.
How Many Stages of Cancer are there?
Essentially, there are four main stages of cancer that are addressed under the numbered staging system – Stage 1 being the least developed stage and Stage 4 being the most severe.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the stages are often displayed on paper or online in Roman numerals (i.e. from Stage I – Stage IV).
What is Stage 1 Cancer?
Stage 1 cancer describes the nature of the disease when it’s at its least critical point. This usually means that the cancer is still small and contained within only one organ.
There is virtually no likelihood that the cancer will have spread beyond that organ – however there is still the possibility that it can develop quickly without immediate treatment.
What is Stage 2 Cancer?
Stage 2 cancer essentially describes how the cancer itself has progressed in size in relation to Stage 1.
The cancer will be bigger, and there is a possibility that it could have spread into the lymph nodes – but it won’t have spread into the surrounding tissues.
What is Stage 3 Cancer?
Stage 2 and Stage 3 are often categorised as one and the same.
However, if cancer has been categorised at Stage 3, this usually means that cancerous cells will have infiltrated the lymph nodes surrounding the tumour.
What is Stage 4 Cancer?
This describes the stage of cancer where the disease has actually spread beyond the original organ – and is now attacking other tissues and organs.
Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of the condition – and it’s sometimes referred to as Metastatic Cancer by some healthcare professionals.
What is Carcinoma in Situ?
Some people recognise five different stages of cancer.
Carcinoma in situ (or Stage 0 Cancer, as it’s sometimes referred to) is essentially a group of abnormal cells that aren’t yet deemed to be cancerous.
There is a chance that the cells could develop into cancer further down the line, however there is also the possibility that they will never become a risk.
Travelling with Stage 4 Cancer
Travelling with cancer is perfectly fine provided you feel well enough to do so and not against medical advice.
When it comes to getting covered, we can help you find available travel insurance quotes from a range of providers who are able to offer cover dependant on your individual medical history.
Once you declare your cancer diagnosis – we’ll ask you a number of questions relevant to your condition to asses those providers who are able to provide appropriate cover. In some circumstances, we may need to refer you to a specialist in this area to discuss further.
If you need any other information, or have any further questions related to travelling with cancer – then our guide to cancer travel insurance is the perfect place to start.