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The staging and prognosis of stomach and oesophageal cancers

Staging

The test results can show how far the cancer has spread. This process is called staging and it helps your health care team recommend the best treatment for you.

The TNM staging system is the method most commonly used to describe the different stages of 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 I to stage IV. If you need help to understand staging, ask someone in your treatment team to explain it in a way that makes sense to you. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

stage Itumours are found only in the stomach or oesophageal wall lining - early or limited cancer
stages II–IIItumours have spread deeper into the layers of the stomach or oesophageal wall and to nearby lymph nodes - locally advanced cancer
stage IVtumours 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.

Generally, the earlier stomach or oesophageal cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of successful treatment. If cancer is found after it has spread from the primary tumour site, the prognosis is not as good.

The following factors are all important in assessing your prognosis: 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; the likelihood of response to treatment; and your age, level of fitness and medical history. These factors will also help your doctor advise you on the best treatment options.

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 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof David Watson, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Oesophago-gastric Surgery Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, and Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Surgery, Flinders University, SA; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gastrointestinal Cancers, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Christine Froude, Consumer; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Interventional Endoscopist and Consultant Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Grant Wilson, Consumer; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.