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Sarcoma staging is used to indicate how far through the body the cancer has spread. The first step in staging a sarcoma is determining the likelihood that the cancer will spread based on the way the cells look under a microscope. This is known as “grading” the tumor.
To assign a grade to a soft tissue sarcoma, a pathologist (a physician who specializes in examining tissue samples) will look at:
- How closely the cancerous cells resemble healthy cells (differentiation). The more abnormal the cells look, the higher the grade.
- How many cancer cells are in the process of dividing (the mitotic count). The more cells that are dividing, the higher the grade.
- How much of the tumor is comprised of dying tissue (necrosis). The more dead tissue that is found in the tumor, the higher the grade.
Once a pathologist has assigned a grade to a soft tissue sarcoma, he or she will then evaluate three additional features as the next part of the sarcoma staging process. The first is the size of the tumor; the second is whether the cancer has spread to any of the nearby lymph nodes; the third is whether the sarcoma has spread to distant tissues or organs elsewhere in the body.
All of these factors are evaluated together to assign a single stage. The stages range from 1 to 4. The lower the stage, the less extensive the cancer and the more treatment options a patient is likely to have.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, sarcoma staging is performed by a team of expert pathologists who work in our on-site lab. The results are immediately provided to the members of a patient’s treatment team, who use this information to develop an individualized treatment plan.