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Cancer of Unknown Primary: Stages

What does stage of cancer mean?

The stage of a cancer is how much and how far the cancer has spread in your body. Your healthcare provider uses exams and tests to find out the size of the cancer and where it is (where it started or the primary site). He or she can also see if the cancer has grown into nearby areas, and if it has spread to other parts of your body. The stage of a cancer is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.

What are the stages of cancer of unknown primary?

There are different staging systems used for cancer. Most cancers are staged with the Roman numerals I, II, III, and IV. This is based on whether the cancer is still contained within the area where it began, has started to spread into nearby tissues and/or organs, or has spread to more distant tissues and/or organs. Stage I is the earliest stage. It usually means the cancer is still contained in the place it started and hasn't spread. Stage IV is the most advanced stage. In this stage, the cancer has spread far from the primary site to other parts of the body. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer of unknown primary (CUP), your cancer was found after it had spread from an unknown origin. Your healthcare providers aren't sure where it started, even after extensive testing. Because of this, you are considered to have advanced metastatic cancer. The stage of your cancer is at least a stage II. It’s likely that your cancer is a stage III or IV.

Talking with your healthcare provider

CUP can be difficult to stage. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Ask questions and talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns.

Online Medical Reviewer: Gersten, Todd, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2016
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