What are the stages of endometrial cancer? Expert Dr. Emily Ko explains factors involved in analysis for staging and what occurs in the body during each stage.
How is endometrial cancer staged?
So, the most classic, rigorous way to stage endometrial cancer is through a surgical procedure. So, what that usually involves is it does include a hysterectomy, removing the uterus and the cervix, usually also includes removing the fallopian tubes and the ovaries.
And, at the same time, the surgeon will do a very thorough assessment of the abdominal pelvic cavity, basically looking around all those areas to see if there’s any signs of visible disease, anything they can see that looks like it could be tumor deposits in the abdominal cavity. If anything is seen, those deposits will be removed and biopsied, so that’s part of the staging procedure.
And additionally, it’s important to try to assess the lymph nodes, typically. So, there are lymph nodes in the pelvic area, and then, higher up along the aortic area, and so, there are different surgical techniques that we can use to basically test or sample some of those lymph nodes, be able to remove them, send them to the pathologist, look under the microscope to see if there are any microscopic cancer cells that have traveled to those lymph nodes.
So, that is all part of a surgical procedure, and with all the information collected from those tissue samples that are removed from the body and sent to the pathologist, but the pathologist then reviews all of that under a microscope, and then can issue a very thorough report describing where the cancer cells are located, and by definition, where the cancer cells are located then defines what the stage is of the cancer.
Can you give me an example?
Of course. So, for example, if the cancer cells are located only in the uterus, and they’re not found anywhere else, then that is a stage I. If the cancer cells have traveled to the cervix area specifically, this we call a cervical stroma, that becomes a stage II. If the cancer cells have, for example, traveled to the fallopian tubes, or the ovaries, or the lymph nodes, then that becomes a stage III, and there are sort of substages within those categories as well.
But stage III would be the highest or most severe?
So, there’s stage III, and then there’s actually stage IV. So, if the cancer cells have traveled outside of the pelvis into the abdominal area, then we consider that a stage IV.
And that would be considered advanced endometrial cancer?
Right. So, by definition, “advanced” typically refers to stage III or IV.