What is the AJCC staging system?

Juliet Wilkinson
Oncology Nursing
The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) staging system is one of the most widely accepted tools that physicians use to grade your cancer. It uses a combination of letters (TNM) and numbers (0-4) to describe the size, severity and spread of your cancer. The system creates a universal language so that every caregiver will understand your cancer quickly. For example, if you are diagnosed with lung cancer, a TNM staging of T1N2MO is a succinct way of stating that your lung cancer is less than 3cm (T1 refers to the size), has spread to 2 lymph nodes (N2), with no metastasis to other organs (M0).

The AJCC staging system is a system developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer for describing the extent of cancer in a patient's body. The descriptions include TNM:

T describes the size of the tumor and if it has invaded nearby tissue. N describes any lymph nodes that are involved. M describes metastasis (spread of cancer from one body part to another). This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.
A staging system is a standardized way in which the cancer care team describes the extent of the cancer. The most commonly used staging system for colorectal cancer is that of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), sometimes also known as the TNM system. The TNM system describes 3 key pieces of information:
T describes how far the main (primary) tumor has grown into the wall of the intestine and whether it has grown into nearby areas.N describes the extent of spread to nearby (regional) lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped collections of immune system cells that are important in fighting infections.M indicates whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other organs of the body. (Colorectal cancer can spread almost anywhere in the body, but the most common sites of spread are the liver and lungs.) Numbers or letters appear after T, N, and M to provide more details about each of these factors. The numbers 0 through 4 indicate increasing severity. The letter X means "cannot be assessed because the information is not available."

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.