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TNM system helps doctors describe cancer

In our last post we discussed the various stages of cancer. There are other ways for doctors to describe and understand the progression of a patient’s cancer. Doctors typically use the American Joint Committee on Cancer’s TNM system when describing a cancer’s stage. It’s important to remember that each type of cancer has its own TNM system as well.

TNM stands for tumor, node, and metastasis. Each one of these is used to describe the cancer. A number from zero to four is used after the letter “T” in order to explain the location and size of the tumor. It also describes how much it has grown into the tissue nearby.

The letter “N” will also include a number ranging from zero to three. This letter explains whether the cancer was found in the lymph nodes and how many lymph nodes have cancer.

Finally, the letter “M” stands for metastasis. It basically indicates whether or not the cancer or tumor has metastasized, which is a medical term meaning “spread.” Those cancers that have spread are labeled as M1. Those that have not are labeled as M0.

These letters and the stages we described in our last post are usually used to describe cancers associated with solid tumors. Some examples include lung, breast and colon cancer. There are other staging systems for other types of cancer. For example, there are different considerations made for childhood cancers, central nervous system tumors and blood cancers.

While these stages may seem a bit confusing, they are very helpful for doctors who are working with cancer patients. It is important that a cancer is correctly diagnosed so that a patient can get the appropriate treatment he or she needs.

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