What are the Stages of Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreas cancer diagram in detail illustration

Cancer diagnosis can be hard to interpret with a lot of medical terminologies that might not make intuitive sense. Terms like “stage 1” or “stage 4 metastatic” are just ways of classifying cancer based on their progression. The stage system can also have specific associated symptoms that coincide with them. Below the different stages of pancreatic cancer will be discussed as well as the associated symptoms of pancreatic cancer within these stages. 

Stage 0

Stage 0 is the best-case scenario to hear back from a test result. Stage 0 denotes that the cancer is found only in the outer linings of the pancreas and that the cells are simply abnormal, so they are more of a pre-cancerous cell than they are a full-blown cancer. The growth would not have encroached in deeper tissue in stage 0. Stage 0 can also be called carcinoma in situ in certain cases. Often there are very few symptoms associated with stage 0 as the growths are not large enough to disrupt normal function.

Stage 1

Stage 1 is also a very treatable form of cancer generally. Stage 1 is characterized by the cancer being localized to one part of the pancreas. Normally the mass of cancer, also called a tumor, is no bigger than 2 centimeters across in size in stage 1. There can be slight variations in stage 1 cancers for example some will classify a cancer more than 2 centimeters and less than 4 centimeters as stage 1b. Stage 1 pancreatic cancer typically will have more mild symptoms such as irregular stool, inflammation, or discomfort.

Stage 2

Stage 2 is a progression of stage 1 where the tumor has exceeded 4 centimeters in length. Stage 2 like stage 1 is also sometimes broken up into two different categories. Stage 2A is characterized by the tumor being over 4 centimeters in size. Stage 2B is categorized as being less than 2 centimeters in size and having spread to nearby lymph nodes. Stage 2 is when the more severe symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be observed. Depending on proximity to a nerve a larger tumor can cause pain within the abdomen. The spread of the cancer to nearby lymph nodes is the first stage of metastases. Larger tumors can result in discomfort if they encroach on nearby nerves in the pancreas. 

Stage 3

Stage 3 cancer has many different classifications. Essentially stage 3 is a continuation where the cancer has spread to more lymph nodes or has begun growing into nearby blood vessels. Stage 3 is difficult because when a tumor gains access to blood supply the tumor becomes better nourished and can begin to starve surrounding cells of nutrients. If the stage 3 tumor grows into a blood supply, it becomes much more difficult to implement surgical intervention and resect the tumor. 

Stage 4

Stage 4 cancer means that the cancer has moved from its site of origin. This process is known as metastases and makes cancer much more difficult to treat. Once a cancer is metastatic it is able to travel through your circulatory system till it gets stuck. With such a large variability in where metastatic cancers can be deposited makes ensuring that the person is cancer free much more difficult. Those who make it through stage 4 cancer must be regularly screened to ensure that no missed cancer cells are able to grow again into metastatic tumors. Stage 4 cancer is indicative of advanced disease state and typically will experience many symptoms associated with the cancer. 

Overall it is important to know that the stage system of classification of cancer is important in understanding what kind of cancer is being discussed. By being informed on the stages of cancer one is better able to make decisions on the treatment method they would prefer. In short stages denote the progression of cancer and the higher the stage equates to a more severe disease state.