Determining the stage of Prostate Cancer
An important part of evaluating prostate cancer is determining the stage, or how far the cancer has spread. Knowing the stage helps define prognosis and is useful when selecting therapies. The most common system is the four-stage TNM system (abbreviated from Tumor/Nodes/Metastases). Its components include the size of the tumor, the number of involved lymph nodes, and the presence of any other metastases.
The most important distinction made by any staging system is whether or not the cancer is still confined to the prostate. In the TNM system, clinical T1 and T2 cancers are found only in the prostate, while T3 and T4 cancers have spread elsewhere. Several tests can be used to look for evidence of spread. Medical specialty professional organizations recommend against the use of PET scans, CT scans, or bone scans when a physician stages early prostate cancer with low risk for metastasis. Those tests would be appropriate in such cases as when a CT scan evaluates spread within the pelvis, a bone scan look for spread to the bones, and endorectal coil magnetic resonance imaging to closely evaluate the prostatic capsule and the seminal vesicles.
After a prostate biopsy, a pathologist looks at the samples under a microscope. If cancer is present, the pathologist reports the grade of the tumor. The grade tells how much the tumor tissue differs from normal prostate tissue and suggests how fast the tumor is likely to grow. The Gleason system is used to grade prostate tumors from 2 to 10, where a Gleason score of 10 indicates the most abnormalities. The pathologist assigns a number from 1 to 5 for the most common pattern observed under the microscope, then does the same for the second-most-common pattern. The sum of these two numbers is the Gleason score. The Whitmore-Jewett stage is another method sometimes used.