Staging is the process of finding out how widespread a cancer is. The stage of liver cancer is one of the most important factors in considering treatment options.
Staging is a standardized way for the cancer care team to summarize information about the primary tumor size (T), number of lymph nodes that contain tumor (N) and if it has spread (metastasized) to another part of the body (M). These factors comprise the TNM Staging system. Numbers or letters that appear after T, N, and M provide more details about each of these factors:
- Numbers 0-4 indicate increasing severity (0 begin less severe than 4)
- The letter X means “cannot be assessed” because information is not available.
Liver cancer is unique in that it occurs mostly in people who have some liver damage. The degree of liver damage plays a very important role in determining what treatment options are possible for an individual patient. As a result, several other liver cancer staging systems have been developed that take into account a variety of factors including:
- liver function
- tumor spread
- tumor invasion into blood vessels (which is very common in liver cancer)
- overall health of the individual
Currently, most cancer treatment centers use a team approach in evaluating patients with liver cancer. The multi-disciplinary team reviews all of the information and determines if the patient is eligible for liver transplantation, surgical resection, intrahepatic or regional therapy, systemic targeted therapy, or a clinical trial.