If you are recently diagnosed with cancer and working through a series of medical appointments, you may encounter several terms as your cancer is discussed. Certain features of cancer may indicate how it could behave, and what treatments may be best.  Here are some of the more important features you may encounter.

Doctor Discussing With Patient In Clinic

On your pathology report:

  • Stage: describes how far the cancer may have spread and typically includes size of the tumor, whether neighboring lymph nodes are involved and to what extent, and whether the cancer has spread far (metastasized).
  • Grade:  this refers to how the cancer cells look and usually ranges from 1 (low grade) to 3 (high grade) for most solid cancers. Grade 2 is intermediate grade. The higher the grade, the greater the risk that cancer may behave aggressively.
  • Receptors: this may not apply to all cancers. Some, like breast cancer, may include mention of receptors that are structures on the surface of the cancer cells. Examples include estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR) and HER2. The pattern in which cancer cells display receptors (aka receptor expression) provide information about how a cancer may behave and which medicines can be used to treat it.
  • Other features: lymphovascular space or perineural invasion imply that cancer cells are growing into and around small blood and lymph vessels, and small nerves in the tumor itself. This may be a worrisome feature, and may influence decisions regarding adjuvant therapy (see a separate article about adjuvant therapy).

Be sure to read the second part of this article entitled, “First appointment essentials – part 2.”