Stages of stomach and esophageal cancer

When diagnosed with stomach cancer or esophageal cancer, you will learn what stage the cancer is at. This can help you and your care team determine your goals, treatment options and outlook.

Our doctors use the TNM staging system to define the stages of stomach and esophageal cancer. In general, early stage cancers have a better prognosis than late stage cancers.

Classification Stomach cancer stages Esophageal cancer stages

T is for 'tumor'

T1 tumors start in the lining of the stomach.

T2 tumors have gone through the muscle but not outside the wall of the stomach.

T3 tumors are in the outside lining of the stomach wall (serosa).

T4 tumors have gone outside the stomach wall and into nearby organs or tissue.

T1 tumors are below the lining of the esophagus.

T2 tumors are in the muscular wall of the esophagus

T3 tumors are in the outer extent of the esophagus.

T4 tumors have gone through the wall of the esophagus into nearby areas such as the trachea (breathing tube).

N is for 'lymph' nodes.

N1 means cancer is in 1 to 6 lymph nodes near the stomach.

N2 means cancer is in 7 to 15 lymph nodes in the stomach region.

N3 means cancer is in more than 15 lymph nodes.

N0 means no lymph nodes have cancer.

N1 means there are lymph nodes with cancer cells

M is for 'metastatic' spread.

M0 means the cancer is only in the stomach.

M1 means the cancer has spread to the liver or other organs

M0 means the cancer is only in the esophagus.

M1 means the cancer has spread to other organs.

Tumors reach different layers of the stomach

medical illustration of the layers of the stomach and esophagus

The stomach has five layers:

  1. The mucosa is the inner layer or lining. It is made up of glands that secrete the juices that help digest food.
  2. The submucosa supports the inner layer.
  3. The muscle layer contracts and creates a rippling motion that mixes and mashes the food.
  4. The subserosa covers and supports the muscle layer.
  5. The serosa covers and holds the stomach in place.

Source: Virginia Piper Cancer Institute
Reviewed By: Daniel Dunn, MD, medical director, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute Esophageal and Gastric Cancer Program
First Published: 10/29/2009
Last Reviewed: 10/29/2009