The stage of a cancer describes the size of a tumour and how far it has spread from where it originated. The grade describes the appearance of the cancerous cells.
If you’re diagnosed with cancer, you may have more tests to help determine how far it has progressed. Staging and grading the cancer will allow the doctors to determine its size, whether it has spread and the best treatment options.
Different types of staging systems are used for different types of cancer. Below is an example of one common method of staging:
stage 0 – indicates that the cancer is where it started (in situ) and hasn’t spread
stage I – the cancer is small and hasn’t spread anywhere else
stage II – the cancer has grown, but hasn’t spread
stage III – the cancer is larger and may have spread to the surrounding tissues and/or the lymph nodes (part of the lymphatic system)
stage IV – the cancer has spread from where it started to at least one other body organ; also known as “secondary” or “metastatic” cancer
The grade of a cancer depends on what the cells look like under a microscope.
In general, a lower grade indicates a slower-growing cancer and a higher grade indicates a faster-growing one. The grading system that’s usually used is as follows:
grade I – cancer cells that resemble normal cells and aren’t growing rapidly
grade II – cancer cells that don’t look like normal cells and are growing faster than normal cells
grade III – cancer cells that look abnormal and may grow or spread more aggressively
Every two minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer. About half of people born after 1960 will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. But how do you cope if it happens to you?
Getting a cancer diagnosis
The C-word fills most people with dread. In one survey, most people said that getting cancer was their number one fear. So it’s understandable that receiving a diagnosis of cancer can be very daunting.
“When people hear they have cancer, they think the worst really,” says Jane Fide, head of Maggie’s cancer support centre in Cheltenham. Fide has supported lots of people in the centre after their diagnosis. “It’s shock, horror. Cancer has such scary connotations. But most people want to say ‘OK, I’ve got cancer’ and get out of the hospital so that they can take in what’s happening.”
When you’re home, it’s time to digest the information you’ve received. “Once the initial shock has subsided, there is sometimes a flood of emotions that can be hard to deal with. But that’s normal. It takes a while for you to absorb the information and come to terms with the situation,” explains Fide.
Your emotions after a cancer diagnosis
A cancer diagnosis affects everyone differently, so there are no set rules about how you’re likely to feel, or how you should deal with your emotions.
"Some people get very angry, some are very tearful, most are extremely anxious and worried," says Fide.
If you think you may be depressed, it's important to speak to your doctor. Symptoms of depression include lasting feelings of sadness, losing interest in the things you used to enjoy, feeling constantly tired, having difficulty getting to sleep, loss of appetite and feeling that life is not worth living.
When you receive your cancer diagnosis, you may be given a number of options about your treatment. This can mean having to make some complex decisions at an already stressful time. If you're finding these decisions difficult or confusing, talk to a health professional from the hospital or your local cancer support centre. They should be able to guide you through all the information and help you make decisions about your treatment.
Your cancer support network
Lots of people find that having a network of friends, family and support services helps them to cope with the impact of a cancer diagnosis.
Family and friends
Talking to your friends and family can be difficult because you don't want to upset them, but remember that they'll want to support you. Sometimes the people close to you don't know how to react. It may help to tell them whether you just need someone to listen, or to give you a hug, or to take some pressure off you by helping around the house.
Some people find that it helps them and their loved ones to go to doctors appointments or treatment sessions together. Your family may need some support of their own, so remind them that there are services to help them too if they need them.
The doctors and nurses in your cancer unit have been trained to deal with all aspects of cancer. As well as giving you medical care, they can answer your questions and give you advice and support. They'll be able to give you information about local support centres and support groups. Some hospitals also offer complementary therapies for people having cancer treatments.
Cancer support centres
Your doctor or specialist nurse will let you know if you have a cancer support centre, such as Maggie's, in your local area. Cancer support centres often provide someone to talk to, and can offer practical and financial advice.
"At Maggie's we provide a warm friendly environment that allows people to have space to think, talk if they want to, ask questions, cry on someone's shoulder - whatever they need," says Fide. "All our centres have a psychologist to talk through the more difficult aspects of having cancer. All centres have a benefits advisor to give financial and welfare advice. Our services are available to everyone affected by cancer, including friends and family, and are completely free of charge."
A support group may suit you if you'd like to discuss your experience with other people who've been diagnosed with cancer. Your GP or specialist doctor or nurse will be able to put you in touch with suitable local groups. You can also search for your local cancer support services.
Self-help and cancer
Feel more in control
When you're first diagnosed with cancer, you can have so many questions that it can be overwhelming. How will it affect my family? How will I cope with the treatment? How will I cope with losing a body part? Am I going to die?
There are many unknowns, and it's natural to feel that you've lost some control over your life. Being able to answer these questions will help you cope and regain that sense of control. If this has happened to you, try writing down your questions, then ask someone, such as your specialist nurse, when you're ready.
Look after yourself
Taking care of yourself will help you to deal with the emotional side of your diagnosis. You might like to:
It can be hard in such a difficult situation, but trying to be positive can really help you to cope. Try focusing on the positive things that you do know, and avoid negative thoughts that may not be true. Discuss your worries with your doctor, nurse or supporter - they can often reassure you.
Try to encourage yourself whenever possible, and be proud of your strength and courage. Remember to enjoy the times that you're feeling well, and have fun with your family and friends.
Fide says: "Often, people who have had a cancer experience stand back and reflect on their lives, perhaps make new friends, change their lifestyle, and embrace life more."
Tomorrow is Lung Cancer Awareness Day 2017 so Leicester’s Hospitals’ Lung cancer nurses have organised an East Midlands Lung Cancer Awareness day at Loughborough University on 17 November from 9am-4pm in the Students Union.
The day is part of lung cancer awareness month and this year it is being held at the University to show students the importance of looking after your lungs. Students, members of the Public and also the local healthcare system are all invited to learn about early signs and symptom recognition of lung cancer. The team have a pair of giant inflatable lungs to grab people’s attention and to be used as a learning tool.
Other attendees at the event include Macmillan, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, and the Leicester Smoking cessation team. This is the main event in the East Midlands, whilst events are also taking place across other regions of the country.
Sue Manship, Smoking Cessation Specialist at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “Most cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, although people who have never smoked can also develop the condition. Smoking is responsible for more than 85% of all cases. If you smoke, the best way to prevent lung cancer and other serious conditions is to stop smoking as soon as possible. Speak to the team at the event for more information about available support.”
Sharon Savory, Lung Cancer Nurse Specialist at Leicester’s Hospitals, explained why she set up the event: “November is lung cancer awareness month and in the East Midlands we like to raise awareness of the disease and promote early symptom recognition and better outcomes with early detection.
“We have over the last few years held the event in the city centre but after two years of getting soaking wet and having soggy leaflets we decided to go for an indoor venue!!! We want to show the students at the University how to love their lungs, look after them and recognise any changes in their health relating to the lungs. As a team we look forward to awareness month as it is our chance to show case lung cancer and how well people can respond if referred early.”
Lorraine Dallas, Director of Information and Support Services at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, added: “Lung health is vital. Too few people properly understand that if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. It can affect anyone, regardless of lifestyle, fitness and background. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms to look out for, because early detection is the key to getting effective treatment”.