Skin Cancer

Staging Skin Cancer

What Staging Reveals

Once cancer has been found, the doctor will need to determine the extent, or stage, of the cancer. Through staging, the doctor can tell if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. More tests may be performed to help determine the stage. Knowing the stage of the disease helps you and the doctor plan treatment.

Staging will let the doctor know

  • the size of the tumor and exactly where it is
  • if the cancer has spread from the original tumor site
  • if cancer is present in nearby lymph nodes
  • if cancer is present in other parts of the body.

Goals of Treatment

The choice of treatment is based on many factors, including the size of the tumor, its location in the layers of the skin, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. For stage 0, I, II or III cancers, the main goals are to treat the cancer and reduce the risk of it returning. For stage IV cancer, the goal is to improve symptoms and prolong survival.

Stages for Non-melanoma Skin Cancer

Non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) is classified into five stages.

  • Stage 0: The cancer involves only the top layer of skin. It is carcinoma in situ.
  • Stage I: The growth is 2 centimeters wide (three-quarters of an inch) or smaller.
  • Stage II: The growth is larger than 2 centimeters wide (three-quarters of an inch).
  • Stage III: The cancer has spread below the skin to cartilage, muscle, bone, or to nearby lymph nodes. It has not spread to other places in the body.
  • Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other places in the body.

Stages for Melanoma

Melanoma skin cancer is also divided into stages according to the size of the tumor and how far it has spread.

  • Stage 0: This is very early melanoma that has not spread within or outside the epidermis. Doctors often refer to this type of cancer as in situ or non-invasive cancer.
  • Stage I and Stage II are also early stages of melanoma. In Stage I, the tumor may have spread from the epidermal layer of skin to the inner dermal layer. Stage II tumors are larger and may have ulcerations, or breaks in the skin.
  • Stage III is called locally advanced cancer. Here the tumor has spread beyond the skin to lymph nodes or to other nearby tissues.
  • Stage IV is metastatic cancer. In this stage, the cancer has spread beyond the skin and lymph nodes to other parts of the body, most often the lungs or liver.

Recurrent melanoma is melanoma that has come back after treatment. It can return to the original skin tumor site or anywhere else in the body, including other organs.