Cancer Classifications

Staging in Cancer

In terms of tumor size and severity, oncologists (physicians who specifically treat cancer) distinguish four different phases, which they call stages. Staging refers to an index used by cancer specialists to determine how much cancer exists in the body, its size, location, and containment or metastasis. Stage I, the earliest, most curable stage, shows only local tumor involvement. Stage II has some spreading of cancer to the surrounding tissues and perhaps to nearby lymph nodes; Stage III involves metastasis to distant lymph nodes; Stage IV, the most advanced and least easily cured, refers to cancer that has spread to distant organs.


(If these occur, see your physician for a physical exam and/or lab tests.)


RATES (all stages)


Bladder cancer

Blood in urine, making it look bright red or rust-colored; pain or burning upon urination; frequent urination; feeling the need to urinate but nothing comes out; urine may appear cloudy because it contains pus

Twice as high in whites as in blacks; 2-3 times higher in men as in women; 2-3 times higher in cigarette smokers as in nonsmokers; machinists, truck drivers, and workers exposed to chemicals



Breast cancer

A lump or thickening of breast; discharge from the nipple; retraction of the nipple; change in skin of breast, such as dimpling or puckering; redness, swelling, feeling of heat; enlarged lymph nodes under arm

Increasing age; early menstruation; late menopause; not having a child or having first child after 30; family or personal history; inherited breast cancer gene



Colorectal cancer

Rectal bleeding (red blood in stools or black stools); abdominal cramps; constipation alternating with diarrhea; weight loss; loss of appetite; weakness; pallid complexion

Polyps, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's disease; family history; residence in urban or industrial area; specific genetic mutations



Kidney cancer

Blood in urine; dull ache or pain in back or side; lump in kidney area; sometimes accompanied by high blood pressure or abnormality in red blood cell count

Being overweight; twice as high in men as in women; twice as high in cigarette smokers as in nonsmokers; coke-oven and asbestos workers




Weakness, paleness; fever and flu-like symptoms; bruising and prolonged bleeding; enlarged lymph nodes, spleen, liver; pain in bones and joints; frequent infections; weight loss; night sweats

Specific genetic abnormalities (e.g., Down and Bloom syndromes); excessive exposure to ionizing radiation and chemicals such as benzene; HTLV-1 virus exposure



Lung cancer

Wheezing "smoker's cough," persisting for months or years; increased, sometimes blood-streaked, sputum; persistent ache in chest; congestion in lungs; enlarged lymph nodes in the neck

Cigarette smoking; secondary smoke; asbestos, radiation, radon, or other toxic exposure




Change in a mole or other bump on the skin including bleeding, or change in size, shape, color, or texture

Sun exposure, particularly during childhood; sunburning or freckling easily; 40 times higher in whites as in blacks



Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Painless swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck, underarm, or groin; persistent fever; feeling of fatigue; unexplained weight loss of more than 10% in a 6-month period; itchy skin and rashes; small lumps in skin; bone pain; swelling in some part of abdomen; liver and spleen enlargement

Lowered immune system function as with HIV and HTLV-1 viruses; recipients of organ transplants; possibly exposure to herbicides



Oral cancer (oral cavity, lip, pharynx)

May often feel a lump in the mouth with the tongue; sometimes a sore spot can be felt while eating or drinking; ulceration of the lips, tongue or other area inside the mouth that does not heal within two weeks; dentures may no longer fit well; or in advanced cases, oral pain, bleeding, foul breath, loose teeth, and changes in speech

More prominent in males, with predisposing factors including tobacco and pipe smoking and chewing tobacco; radiation and other toxic exposures

not available


Ovarian cancer

Frequently, few symptoms; abdominal swelling; in rare cases, abnormal vaginal bleeding; women over 40 may experience generalized digestive discomfort

Increasing age; never pregnant; residence in industrial country (Japan excluded); family history of breast or ovarian cancer; inherited breast cancer gene



Pancreatic cancer

Upper abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss; pain near the center of the back; loss of appetite; intolerance of fatty foods; yellowing of the skin (jaundice); abdominal masses; enlargement of liver and spleen

Increasing age; cigarette smoking; higher in countries with high-fat diets; higher in blacks than whites



Prostate cancer

Urination difficulties due to blockage of the urethra; bladder retains urine, creating frequent feelings of urgency to urinate, especially at night; may have difficulty stopping urination; urine stream may be narrow; bladder doesn't empty completely; burning, painful urination; sometimes bloody urine; tenderness over the bladder and dull ache in the pelvis and back

Increasing age; 37% higher in blacks as in whites, with twice the mortality rate



Uterine cancer

Abnormal vaginal bleeding of fresh blood, or a watery bloody discharge in a postmenopausal woman (70%-75% of all cases are postmenopausal); a collection of fluid may also occur in the uterus; painful urination; pain during intercourse; pain in pelvic area

Cervical: cigarette smoking; sex before 18; many sexual partners; low socioeconomic status; mortality rate twice as high for blacks as whites Endometrial: Early menstruation; late menopause; never pregnant; estrogen exposure, estrogen replacement therapy without progestin; tamoxifen; diabetes, gallbladder disease, hypertension, and obesity



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