One of the aspects of cancer that can cause a considerable amount of unease, concern and distress is that there are many different types of cancer that function differently, originate in different parts of the body and sometimes require different types of cancer care to treat.
According to the NHS, there are over 200 types of cancer, and at different stages, they can have different effects, which are often described in terms of stages and grades.
Stages of cancer are typically used to describe levels of progression, with stage 0 meaning that a cluster of abnormal cells has not become large enough to be described as cancerous, and stage 4 meaning that the cancer has spread to other organs and parts of the body.
Cancer grading, on the other hand, focuses on the cancer cells themselves and how abnormal they are compared to normal cells in the body, as well as how quickly they are growing.
Both of these factors are important, as the growth rate impacts how quickly the cells are growing in comparison to typical cells in the body and the risk at which they could overwhelm and progress to more advanced stages.
As well as this, the abnormality of cancer tissues can affect the inherent structure of the tissues and thus their stability and functionality.
Grading is sometimes known as differentiation for this reason; the cancer cells are developed and organised differently from normal cells and are at the greatest risk of causing harm.
Grading is done on a numbered scale, typically from Grade 1 (with cancer cells looking similar to normal cells) to Grade 3 and beyond (cancer cells looking particularly abnormal and are growing at a fast rate).
With some types of cancer, it cannot be easy to tell how differentiated the cells are, and typically these will be assessed as either Grade X, GX or an undetermined grade, which needs to be carefully monitored as the cancer’s nature becomes clearer.