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The staging and prognosis of stomach and oesophageal cancers

Staging

The test results help show whether you have stomach or oesophageal cancer and whether it has spread. Working out how far the cancer has spread is called staging. It helps your doctors recommend the best treatment for you.

The TNM staging system is the method most often used to stage stomach and oesophageal cancers. The specialist gives numbers to the size of the tumour (T1–4), whether or not lymph nodes are affected (N0–N3), and whether the cancer has spread or metastasised (M0 or M1). The lower the numbers, the less advanced the cancer.

The TNM scores are combined to work out the overall stage of the cancer, from stage 1 to stage 4 (see below). Ask your doctor to explain what the stage of the cancer means for you. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

stage 1tumours are found only in the stomach or oesophageal wall lining - early or limited cancer
stages 2-3tumours have spread deeper into the layers of the stomach or oesophageal wall and to nearby lymph nodes - locally advanced cancer
stage 4tumours have spread beyond the stomach or oesophageal wall to nearby lymph nodes or parts of the body, or to distant lymph nodes and parts of the body - metastatic or advanced cancer

Prognosis

Prognosis means the expected outcome of a disease. You may wish to discuss your prognosis and treatment options with your doctor, but it is not possible for anyone to predict the exact course of the disease. Instead, your doctor can give you an idea about the general prognosis for people with the same type and stage of cancer.

To work out your prognosis and advise you on treatment options, your doctor will consider your test results; the type of cancer; the size of the cancer and how far it has grown into other tissue; whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes; how it might respond to treatment; and your age, level of fitness and medical history.

Generally, the earlier stomach or oesophageal cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome of treatment. If cancer is found after it has spread, it may not respond as well to treatment.

Featured resources

Oesophagogastric cancer - Your guide to best cancer care

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Understanding Stomach and Oesophageal Cancers

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed October 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Peter Blyth, Consumer; Jeff Bull, Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Mick Daws, Consumer; Dr Steven Leibman, Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper Gastrointestinal Oncology Service, and Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian: Upper Gastrointestinal, Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Letchemi Valautha, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.