The Progression of Cancer: Grading, Staging & Diagnosis

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  • 0:07 Grades and Stages
  • 0:53 Cancer Grading
  • 2:27 Cancer Staging
  • 4:24 Cancer Diagnosis and Screening
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will discuss the way by which cancer is diagnosed, graded, and staged. We'll talk about what staging and grading actually mean and how and why cancers may be high or low in grade.

Grades and Stages

You've gotten all sorts of grades in your life. The grades tell you how good or bad you are at some kind of specific task. Some grades ended up on the fridge and others ended up in the trash.

You've also gone through stages in life where you've evolved and moved on to different things. Sporting events have stages as well. Those stages are there to mark the progressions of things.

Furthermore, everyone has heard of the terms 'grading' and 'staging' when it comes not only to life but also when it comes to cancer. And I've often heard students and people get these two terms confused. While there is an important interrelationship, they are quite a bit different, and this lesson will seek to point out those differences.

Cancer Grading

Cancer grading refers to the identification of a tumor's cellular and tissue characteristics, which gives rise to the ability to predict the speed and likelihood at which a cancer will grow and spread. The characteristics that are looked for include the overall shape of the tumor in the surrounding tissue, the shape and size of cells, their state of division or lack thereof, and so on.

If the characteristics of the tumor resemble normal cells and tissues, then it is termed a well-differentiated and low-grade tumor, and if not, then we term it poorly differentiated or undifferentiated or a high-grade tumor. Therefore, a biopsy of the tumor must be taken and submitted for microscopic analysis in order to determine its particular grade.

There are slightly different grading schemes in existence in different parts of the world for different types of cancers. However, there is an underlying presence of uniformity between all of them, which we'll discuss.

If you've ever gotten high grades in school then you were probably quite aggressive in your study patterns. You worked hard and long hours to get that good grade. Well, high-grade cancers are considered more aggressive than low-grade cancers. This means that they are more likely to spread, more likely to cause surrounding tissue damage, and more likely to do so quickly. These cancers are the most difficult to treat as a general rule.

Cancer Staging

In contrast to cancer grading, cancer staging refers to the assessment of cancer development by looking into how, if, and where it has spread around the body, as well as its size and local tissue location. Again, staging schemes may vary for different reasons, so I'll focus on the overarching themes that are present in all of them.

What you must understand is that, in staging, we aren't concerned about how aggressive the cancer is. We're not concerned about its cellular characteristics but instead are concerned about where it is in the body and how big it is. The higher the stage, the worse the prognosis and the more difficult the treatment. This will make sense in just a second.

As a malignant tumor grows, it not only gets bigger but begins to invade surrounding tissue more. After it does so, it may spread to local lymph nodes. After spreading to local lymph nodes, the cancer cells may then spread to distant lymph nodes and may also move to organs where they were not found initially.

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