Introduction to Staging

The concept of describing cancer by stage or extent was introduced in 1929 by the League of Nation's World Health Organization. Staging is a common language developed by medical professionals to communicate information about cancer to others. The first primary site so described was cancer of the cervix.

Staging for cancer has evolved over many years. Many groups have developed different staging systems. Some staging systems cover all sites; others are limited to particular ages of patients, histology, sites, study groups, or medical specialties. This learning module briefly discusses common staging schemes and systems. The two most common staging systems used in hospital and central registries are discussed in detail.

Staging is a shorthand method for describing cancer. A coded format, such as a numerical system with increasing values meaning more involvement or severity, allows electronic analysis of cases with similar characteristics.

A short definition for staging is "the grouping of cases into broad categories based on extent of disease." Elements to be considered in any staging system are the primary tumor site, tumor size, multiplicity (number of tumors), depth of invasion and extension to regional or distant tissues, involvement of regional lymph nodes, distant metastases. In recent years, the addition of biomarkers has also been added for some staging.

Updated: March 4, 2024