Understanding Your Stage of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

In most cases, nonmelanoma skin cancer is confined to the skin and is easily treated and cured. If skin cancer has spread, then your doctor will want to know the extent or stage of the skin cancer. This helps your doctor decide whether more treatment is needed and if so, which treatments might be best.

The stage is based on the size of the tumor and whether cancer has spread beyond the tumor. Your doctor will look at the results of the biopsy to determine the stage. If you have squamous cell carcinoma, your doctor may also test lymph nodes near the tumor to see if the cancer has spread beyond the skin.

Stages are numbered in Roman numerals between 0 and IV.

  • Stage 0. Cancer is found only in the original tumor in the skin. It is only in the epidermis and has not spread to the dermis. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.

  • Stage I. The tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller. It involves both the epidermis and the dermis. Cancer does not invade the muscle, cartilage, or bone and has not spread to lymph nodes or other organs.

  • Stage II. The tumor is larger than 2 centimeters. It involves both the epidermis and the dermis. Cancer does not invade the muscle, cartilage, or bone and has not spread outside the skin.

  • Stage III. The cancer has spread to areas outside the skin, such as into muscle, bone, cartilage, or lymph nodes, but only those near the original tumor. It has not spread to distant organs.

  • Stage IV. The cancer can be any size and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes. It has also spread to areas outside the skin , such as to distant organs like the brain or lungs.

Most nonmelanoma skin cancers are Stage 0 or Stage I. Stage III and IV are relatively rare. Based on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer, your overall health, and other factors, your doctor works with you to develop a treatment plan.

Medical Reviewer: [Glassman, Diana RN, BSN, Kanipe, Jennifer RN, BSN, Leffell, David J. MD, Stump-Sutliff, Kim RN, MSN, AOCNS] Last Annual Review Date: 2011-01-11T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: © 2007 CancerSource, 280 Summer Street, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02210. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

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