Stages of cancer of unknown primary
There is no staging system for cancer of unknown primary (CUP). This is because the cancer has already spread and doctors don’t know where the original cancer started.
Doctors can usually group CUP by the type of cell the cancer started from.
What is staging?
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, doctors usually carry out a number of tests to find out:
- the size of the tumour
- whether it has spread to other parts of the body
This is called staging. It helps doctors decide on the best treatment plan.
Different cancer types have slightly different staging systems. So the stages used for bowel cancer are different from the stages used for breast cancer, for example.
For most types of cancer there are 4 number stages, from 1 to 4. Stage 1 is a small, localised tumour (early cancer). Cancer that has spread to another part of the body is stage 4 cancer (advanced cancer).
Staging system for CUP
With CUP, doctors don’t know where the original cancer started. So they can't accurately stage this type of cancer.
You usually still have several tests to find out where the cancer is. Your doctor uses all the information they can gather to help decide on your best treatment options.
The results of your scans and tests can often suggest the most likely place the cancer started.