A diagnosis of cervical cancer is only one aspect in determining treatment options and other paths forward. Your oncologist will then go through a staging process that determines the extent of the cancer, including whether it has spread beyond the cervix.
In this article, we explain the stages of cervical cancer, how they are determined, and what they mean when considering treatment options and overall outlook.
To determine the stage of cervical cancer and other types of cancers of the female reproductive system, doctors use guidelines from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO). These stages include:
FIGO Stage 1
Stage I is the first stage of cervical cancer. At this stage, the cancer may have grown from the surface of the cervix into the deeper tissues, but has not spread to the lymph nodes or distant organs.
The first stage is divided into other classifications:
FIGO Phase 2
In the next major stage of cervical cancer, the malignant cells may have spread beyond the cervix and uterus, but not beyond the lower vagina or pelvic wall. The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes or distant organs.
Stage 2 is divided into other classifications:
FIGO Stage 3
In stage III cervical cancer, the malignant tumors have spread to the pelvic wall and to the lower part of the vagina. Cancer may also block the ureters, which carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder. It may also spread to the lymph nodes, but not to distant sites.
Stage 3 is divided into other classifications:
FIGO Stage 4
This is the most dangerous stage of cervical cancer. Cancer may spread to the bladder or rectum, as well as the lungs, bones, or other distant areas.
Stage 4 classifications include:
Factors Affecting Staging
To determine the stage of cervical cancer, your doctor will consider
- How far has the cancer reached the cervix?
- Whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to nearby areas
- Whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
- Presence of cancer in distant organs
Diagnostic tests used to determine the stage
Additionally, prior to clinical staging, your doctor may perform a
- physical exam
Imaging testsX-ray, magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography or computed tomography
- Biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of the cervix or nearby tissue and looking for cancer cells under a microscope.
Lymph node biopsy
- Cystoscopy, a procedure that looks for larger tumors in the urethra or bladder
- Proctoscopy, a type of procedure that helps your doctor find larger tumors. It’s exclusive to the rectum
Doctors use staging to determine the size and extent of cervical tumors, as well as whether they have spread beyond the cervix.
Metastatic cervical cancer means cancer has spread to lymph nodes, tissues, and organs, and it can be difficult to treat. Metastases usually occur in the late stages of cervical cancer.
When considering cancer, the best outcomes are when the disease is diagnosed at an early stage.
According to the American Cancer Society, the total
The highest rate (92 percent) was in the early, more localized stages. As the cancer has spread to distant areas, 5-year survival rates have dropped to 18 percent.
Researchers estimate that metastasis away from cervical cancer is uncommon. However, up to 35 percent of those diagnosed with cervical cancer may eventually develop secondary lung tumors.
While every case is different, statistics like this underscore the links between early diagnosis and life expectancy when considering cervical cancer. Communities should consider increasing access to health care that also encourages individuals to see a doctor if they are experiencing unusual symptoms.
Cervical cancer grading is done to help determine your treatment options for this type of cancer, as well as your general outlook. These stages mainly depend on whether the tumors have spread outside the cervix, but the size of the cancer is also taken into account.
The best outcomes tend to be for cancers that are caught in the early stages, which makes regular gynecological examinations and early detection critical.
Call a doctor if you have concerns about any symptoms you may be experiencing.