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What is the Relevance of ‘Cancer Grade’?

There are two terms which are widely being used during cancer diagnosis and treatment i.e. ‘stage’ and ‘grade’ but these phrases are less apparent to a common person. While we have read the article on the meaning of a particular cancer stage, let’s try to understand what cancer grade means? Cancer is a disorder in which human body cell start multiplying uncontrollably. When cancer start progressing, cancerous body tissues change and divide into more malignant cells. These cells multiply and spread around with high speed which obstruct normal regulatory system.

When there is any hard growth in the body, it is examined for the presence of cancerous cell and also for the severity of the disease. This whole process of analyzing many different factors and concluding indicators are described by the stage and grade of the disease. A pathologist (a doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells under a microscope) determines whether the tumor is benign or malignant. Biopsy sample is taken from the tumour and inspected with microscope to discover the grade of it.

How tumour grade is different from tumour stage?

While the ‘stage of a cancerous tumour’ is defined by the original place (primary tumor), the size of the growth and the extent it has reached from the starting point; the ‘grade of the tumour’ is an assessment of the cell appearance in tumors and other neoplasm.

Cancer grade describes how unusual the body cells and tissues of a tumour are when compared to normal healthy body cells. Basically it is a microscopic cell study to check the appearance and growth patterns of abnormal cells.

It is helpful for the treating doctor to have an idea about the grade of cancer. The purpose of grading system is to collect information about the possible development rate of the tumor and its tendency to spread.

Doctors are unable to predict about the behavior of body cells however grading is very useful indicator and plays an essential role in treatment decisions. Cancer types such as prostate cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, primary brain tumour and breast cancer particularly needs systematic planning for treatment. Different types of cancer originated in different organs or parts of body have their own grading assessment system.

A low grade cancer means it will spread very slowly hence the chances of better treatment and cure increase. The high grade cancer is the one which grows very fast and reaches to multiple places and most often needs quick / intensive treatment.

What is cell differentiation?

It is a normal process where general body cells split and turn out to be specialized cells. This happens through a method which is known as gene expression. Gene expression is the specific combination of genes that are turned on or off (expressed or repressed), and this is what dictates how a cell functions.

In a grading system body cells are described on the basis of their differentiation. Development of cancer cells and their structure in the tissue decides the types of differentiation. When cells and tissue constructions are very similar to normal tissues, the tumour is called well differentiated. These tumours are likely to grow and spread slowly.

The grading criteria vary in tumours in different organs and in different types of tumour. The general rule is that well-differentiated tumours behave more calmly than badly differentiated tumours. Grading is used when assessing the need for post-operative medical treatment.

On the other hand, if differentiated cells looks abnormal and are not arranged in the usual way in comparison with the normal healthy cells, the tumour may be more likely to spread into nearby tissues or to other parts of the body.

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