Cancer stages are used as a way to describe the size of the cancer itself as well as how far it has spread. Staging can also involve the ‘grade’ of cancer which describes the condition and appearance of the cancer cells[1].

When cancer is first diagnosed, a doctor uses both staging and grading to determine how big the cancer is, whether it’s spread to surrounding tissues or other parts of the body and what the best treatment options are. While the majority of cancers have four stages, some have a stage 0 [2].

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Cancer stages: What do they mean?

While different methods of staging tend to be used for different types of cancer, a common staging system is the number system wherein the cancer is divided into stages between 1 to 4 [3]. These are some general meanings behind each stage and what each stage typically refers to.

Stage 0

The cancer is located where it started and has not spread to nearby tissues - this stage is often highly curable.

See also: What are the Early Signs of Cancer: How to Spot Cancer Early

Stage 1

Sometimes referred to as ‘early stage cancer’, this stage occurs when cancer has grown in the body but hasn’t grown deeply or spread to any other parts of the body.

Stage 2

This stage indicates that the cancer is slightly larger than the previous stages but hasn’t yet spread.

Stage 3

In stage 3, the cancer is larger and may have started to spread to surrounding tissues or the lymph nodes - the small structures within the lymphatic system that help filter harmful substances.

Stage 4

Also referred to as ‘metastatic cancer’, in stage 4, the cancer has spread from where it initially started to other organs in the body.

See also: HIV and Cancer: What’s the Connection?

Cancer grades: What do they mean?

The grading system used by doctors, in conjunction with staging, is used to help describe how the cells look, often in comparison to ‘normal’ cells. This can often help doctors indicate how a cell might behave[4].

The most common grading system consists of three grades, these include:

  • Grade 1: The cancer cells appear similar to normal cells and aren’t growing quickly
  • Grade 2: The cancer cells don’t appear similar to normal cells and are growing faster than cells normally would
  • Grade 3: The cancer cells look unusual and may grow at a rapid rate

What is a cancer polyp?

A polyp is a small growth of tissue that forms on the surface of the body. Polyps typically appear as either small, flat bumps or small and mushroom-like in appearance. While polyps in the bowel are quite common, affecting almost 1 in 4 people aged over 50 or over, some other areas polyps may appear include:

  • Throat
  • Uterus
  • Stomach

What are the symptoms of a polyp?

As polyps can appear on a number of different areas of the body, the signs and symptoms of each tend to vary depending on the part affected.

Bowel polyps

Blood in the stool, change in stool colour, abdominal pain and/or change in bowel habits.

Throat polyps

Hoarse voice, sore throat, weight loss

Uterus polyps

Irregular menstrual bleeding, vaginal bleeding after menopause, infertility

Stomach polyps

Nausea, tender abdomen, blood in the stool

See also: What are the Risk Factors Associated With Bowel Cancer?

What are the causes of polyps?

While the specific cause of certain polyps is unknown, according to Mayo Clinic, the cause of bowel and/or rectum polyps may be a result of a simple gene mutation. While healthy cells grow and divide by the book, a mutation in a gene will cause cells to continue dividing - even when new cells aren’t needed. This continued growth can potentially cause polyps to form.

See also: What Causes a Change in Bowel Movement?

What is the connection between polyps and cancer?

Although a number of polyps are benign - meaning it’s unlikely they will cause cancer, there is a possibility that a polyp may eventually become cancerous. The likelihood of this depends on the location, cause and how long the polyp has existed.

If you have symptoms of a polyp or believe you may have a polyp, it’s important to know more. It’s common for many people to not realise they have a polyp until their doctor has examined them which makes it all the more important to check in on your health regularly.

One of the most reliable ways to spot cancer early is through a screening test. When cancer is spotted in its early stages, treatment is more likely to be successful. It’s important to note that screening is recommended for people who have no symptoms at all. If you’re experiencing signs or symptoms, make some time to speak with your doctor.

LetsGetChecked has a range of at-home lab tests which can help in screening for cancer, these include:

Bowel Cancer Screening Test
PSA Test
HPV Test

Results for each test are available online within 5 days and our dedicated medical team will offer support from the beginning of the process to the very end and will answer any questions you may have.

See also: How can you Screen for Bowel Cancer From Home?

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  1. NHS. What do cancer stages and grades mean? Online:, 2018
  2. Cancer Research UK. Stages of Cancer. Online:, 2020
  3. Cancer Research UK. Stages of Cancer. Online:, 2020
  4. NHS. What do cancer stages and grades mean? Online:, 2018