Stages of cervical cancer

The stages of cervical cancer indicate how far along it is, like any cancer staging does. Treatment options depend on how advanced the cancer is.

Dysplasia is how it often starts. Mild dysplasia is also called "CIN I," and moderate dysplasia is called "CIN II." You may hear those terms. CIN I and CIN II are not cancer, but your doctor may want to do a biopsy to see what's going on under the surface.  That's what happened to me.

Cervical cancer is staged or graded from 0, or the smallest involvement, to 4 for the most involvement. The earlier stage 0 is often called "carcinoma in situ," or cancer in place. Sometimes it is also referred to as "CIN III."

Then stage 1 is broken into categories based on size of the tumor, ranging from 1A to 1B2. Anything in stage 1 is still just in the cervix, but 1B2 means that the tumor is larger than 4 cm.

Stage 2 means that the tumor goes past the cervix but not into the pelvic wall. The upper vagina is also involved.

In stage 3, the pelvic wall is involved, and the tumor can be felt on rectal exam. The tumor also includes the lower vagina.

In stage 4, the cancer has gone beyond the pelvis, either to nearby organs or further.  They call that metastasized.  

Surgery is an option for treatment for stages 0-1A2. After that, it's just not an option to avoid a hysterectomy. Even 1B2, while it's still in the cervix, is getting too large.

Trachelectomy is a possibility in the hands of only a few surgeons for patients who are diagnosed with 1A2 or possibly 1B1 if the tumor is smaller than 2 cm.

But 2 cm sounds so small. It's hard to imagine these tumor sizes. A 2 cm tumor is 0.8 inches, so that's actually getting to be big in terms of tumors.

This is why early detection or even prevention at the point of dysplasia is so important.  Cervical cancer is slow-growing--it takes years for it to develop to a tumor.  If you go regularly to the gynecologist, it will get caught early, perhaps at just moderate dysplasia, and even that can reverse on its own in many cases.  And if you do have cervical cancer, get to an oncologist so that you can get the least invasive treatment possible.