What types of tests are used to determine stage?

The types of tests used for staging depend on the type of cancer. Tests include the following:


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Physical exams are used to gather information about the cancer. The doctor examines the body by looking, feeling, and listening for anything unusual. The physical exam may show the location and size of the tumor(s) and the spread of the cancer to the lymph nodesand/or to other tissues and organs.

Imaging studies produce pictures of areas inside the body. These studies are important tools in determining stage. Procedures such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) scanscan show the location of the cancer, the size of the tumor, and whether the cancer has spread.

Laboratory tests are studies of blood, urine, other fluids, and tissues taken from the body. For example, tests for liver function and tumor markers (substances sometimes found in increased amounts if cancer is present) can provide information about the cancer.

Pathology reports may include information about the size of the tumor, the growth of the tumor into other tissues and organs, the type of cancer cells, and the grade of the tumor. Abiopsy may be performed to provide information for the pathology report. Cytology reports also describe findings from the examination of cells in body fluids.

Surgical reports tell what is found during surgery. These reports describe the size and appearance of the tumor and often include observations about lymph nodes and nearby organs.

What is restaging?

Doctors may reassess a person’s cancer after their treatment has been completed to determine how the cancer responded to treatment. Such a reassessment, or restaging, may also be done when a cancer has recurred and may require more treatment. This reassessment involves the same tests that were done when the cancer was first diagnosed. After these tests, the doctor may assign a new stage to the cancer. The new stage will be preceded by an “r” to indicate that it reflects the restaging. The original stage at diagnosis does not change.

How can a patient find more information about staging?

The doctor most familiar with a patient’s situation is in the best position to provide staging information for that person. For background information, PDQ®, NCI’s comprehensive cancer information database, contains cancer treatment summaries that describe the staging of adult andchildhood cancers.

Information about cancer staging can also be obtained by calling NCI’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) toll-free at 1–800–4–CANCER (1–800–422–6237). CIS information specialists also offer immediate online assistance through LiveHelp.

Source: National Cancer Institute