Prostate Cancer Staging 

Updated: Feb 16, 2018
  • Author: Natasza M Posielski, MD; Chief Editor: E Jason Abel, MD  more...
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TNM Classification for Prostate Cancer

The clinical staging of prostate cancer was devised from the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) tumor, node, metastasis (TNM) system. Risk stratification is based on the clinical stage as well as the following pretreatment parameters:

  • Digital rectal examination (DRE) findings
  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) value
  • Biopsy findings
  • Imaging study results

Pathological staging is determined following prostatectomy and depends on factors such as tumor burden, status of surgical margins, extracapsular disease, and seminal vesicle and pelvic lymph node involvement. Pathological staging is a more accurate measure of the extent of disease and allows for better prediction of outcomes. [1]

The TNM classification for prostate cancer is provided below. [2]

Table 1. TNM Classification for Prostate Cancer (Open Table in a new window)

Primary tumor (T)
Clinical (cT)
TX Primary tumor cannot be assessed
T0 No evidence of primary tumor
T1 Clinically inapparent tumor not palpable or visible by imaging
T1a Tumor incidental histologic finding in ≤5% of tissue resected (at time of transurethral resection of the prostate [TURP])
T1b Tumor incidental histologic finding in >5% of tissue resected (at time of TURP)
T1c Tumor identified by needle biopsy (because of elevated prostate specific antigen [PSA] level)
T2 Tumor confined within prostate (Note: tumors found in 1 or both lobes by needle biopsy but not palpable on DRE or reliably visible by imaging are classified as T1c)
T2a Tumor involves one-half of 1 lobe or less
T2b Tumor involves more than one-half of 1 lobe but not both lobes
T2c Tumor involves both lobes
T3 Tumor extends through the prostatic capsule (Note: invasion into the prostatic apex, or into—but not beyond—the prostatic capsule is classified as T2
T3a Extracapsular extension (unilateral or bilateral)
T3b Tumor invading seminal vesicle(s)
T4 Tumor fixed or invades adjacent structures other than seminal vesicles (eg, bladder, levator muscles, and/or pelvic wall)
Pathologic (pT)*
pT2 Organ confined
pT3 Extraprostatic extension
pT3a Extraprostatic extension or microscopic invasion of the bladder neck**
pT3b Seminal vesicle invasion
pT4 Tumor is fixed or invades adjacent structures other than the seminal vesicles (eg, bladder, rectum)
*There is no pathologic T1 classification.

**Positive surgical margin should be indicated by an R1 descriptor (residual microscopic disease).

Regional lymph nodes (N)
Clinical (cN)
NX Regional lymph nodes were not assessed
N0 No regional lymph node metastasis
N1 Metastasis in regional lymph node(s)
Pathologic (pN)
pNX Regional nodes not sampled
pN0 No positive regional nodes
pN1 Metastases in regional nodes(s)
Distant metastasis (M)*
M0 No distant metastasis
M1 Distant metastasis
M1a Nonregional lymph nodes(s)
M1b Bone(s)
M1c Other site(s) with or without bone disease
*If more than 1 site of metastasis is present, use the most advanced category.

Histopathologic Grade for Prostate Cancer

An additional factor influencing prognosis is histopathologic grading. Tissue obtained from a needle biopsy or a prostatectomy is graded using the Gleason Grading System. Gleason grades range from 1 to 5. Each specimen is assigned two grades based on the most common and second most common pattern. These numerical values are added to calculate the Gleason Score.

  Table 2. Gleason Score (Open Table in a new window)

Histopathologic grade (G)
GX Gleason score cannot be assessed
Gleason ≤6 Well differentiated (slight anaplasia)
Gleason 7 Moderately differentiated (moderate anaplasia)
Gleason 8-10 Poorly differentiated or undifferentiated (marked anaplasia)

The 8th edition of the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual took effect on January 1, 2018. A major change is that tumor grading now involves the Gleason Score, as well as the grade group. [3]

Table 3. Grade Group (Open Table in a new window)

Grade Group Gleason Score Gleason Pattern(s)
1 ≤6 ≤3 + 3
2 7 3 + 4
3 7 4 + 3
4 8 4 + 4 (3+5/5+3)
5 9 or 10 4 + 5, 5 + 4, 5 + 5

Risk Stratification

Prostate cancer risk stratification is based on groups defined by D’Amico et al in 1998. This system has been adopted by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) and is used widely in clinical practice when making decisions regarding treatment and/or active surveillance. [2, 4]

Table 4. Anatomic stage/prognostic groups (Open Table in a new window)

Stage* T N M PSA Grade Group
I cT1a-c, cT2a N0 M0 < 10 ng/ml 1
pT2 N0 M0 < 10 ng/ml 1
IIA cT1a-c, cT2a N0 M0 ≥10, <20 ng/ml 1
pT2 N0 M0 ≥10, <20 ng/ml 1
cT2b-c N0 M0 <20 ng/ml 1
IIB T1-2 N0 M0 <20 ng/ml 2
IIC T1-2 N0 M0 <20 ng/ml 3
T1-2 N0 M0 <20 ng/ml 4
IIIA T1-2 N0 M0 ≥20 ng/ml 1-4
IIIB T3-4 N0 M0 Any 1-4
IIIC Any N0 M0 Any 5
IVA Any N1 M0 Any Any
IVB Any Any M1 Any Any

*If PSA or Gleason is not available, grouping should be determined by T stage and/or either PSA or Gleason, as available.

See Prostate Cancer: Diagnosis and Staging, a Critical Images slideshow, to help determine the best diagnostic approach for this potentially deadly disease.

Also see the Advanced Prostate Cancer: Signs of Metastatic Disease slideshow for help identifying the signs of metastatic disease.