Kidney cancer stage descriptions are a standard means of recognizing how far a case of kidney cancer has progressed. By knowing the stage, the doctor can begin to formulate a treatment plan.
Kidney cancer stages are basically a numeric way of expressing how serious the case is and how far cancer cells have spread. Is there a malignant tumor located only in a kidney, or have cancer cells broken away and reached surrounding glands and lymph nodes? Have they even reached distant organs? You can certainly see why this kind of information is critical to choosing treatment options that are most likely to lead to the best possible outcome.
A number of factors are considered in determining a kidney cancer stage designation. Once the medical team has examined test results and other information, a number between one and four will be assigned. Some doctors will use Roman numerals (I, II, III, or IV), but this practice is more common among medical professionals than with the public at large.
Once a stage has been established, you can also estimate, with reasonable accuracy, a patient’s 5-year survival expectancy based on statistics for other kidney cancer patients. There’s no guarantee, of course, that someone whose cancer has been caught early will survive longer than someone diagnosed at a later stage. But obviously, someone with early stage kidney cancer has a better chance at longevity than someone who is diagnosed with a later stage.
The following offers basic descriptions of each kidney cancer stage.
Stage 1 – The cancer is “localized,” meaning that no cancer cells have broken off and spread to surrounding tissues or organs. The size of the tumor is no more than 7 centimeters (about 2.8 inches).
Stage 2 – This is a more serious stage than Stage 1 because the tumor is larger. It’s now bigger than 7 centimeters or 2.8 inches. However, all cancer cells still appear to be located in the kidney, and there’s no evidence of metastasis (spreading to other tissues or organs).
Stage 3 – Kidney cancer is more complicated to treat at Stage 3 because it has spread to the adjacent adrenal gland or a major vein near the kidney. It may also be found in no more than one lymph node.
Stage 4 – At Stage 4, kidney cancer has reached a very dangerous point. The cancer has metastacized, meaning it has spread to other parts of the body and is affecting other tissues or possibly a distant organ. It can now also be found in more than one lymph node.
Doctors may also use a “grading” system along with a stage to further define how dangerous each case may be. The grade is a comparison of the way cancer cells look under magnification compared to normal kidney cells.
If there’s not much difference in appearance between the cancer cells and normal cells, a low grade will be designated. But if the cancer cells look very different from the normal cells, they’ll receive a higher grade. Grade determinations are important for your doctor to know because they give him or her an indication of how aggressively the cancer can metastacize. Cancer cells that are designated with a higher grade usually spread faster. This makes them more dangerous.
To summarize, determining what stage kidney cancer has reached goes a long way toward deciding how to treat it.
Most cases of kidney cancer occur in adults who are more than 50 years old. Twice as many men get it as women. Around 30,000 new cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed every year in the U.S., and there are about 12,000 deaths attributed to it annually.
As treatment options become more effective and research moves closer to a cure, these statistics will hopefully improve. But between now and then, doctors will continue to use the kidney cancer staging system to make important decisions about treatment, saving as many lives as they can along the way.
Related topics: kidney cancer stages and kidney cancer causes. Neal Kennedy is a former radio and TV reporter. To read more of his articles, click on kidney conditions.