Risk Management & Treatment

Stages of prostate cancer

Treatment for prostate cancer depends on the stage and grade of the cancer. Standard treatment may include a combination of surgery, radiation, and/or hormonal therapies. People with advanced or recurrent cancers may also benefit from chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy. Clinical trials may be available for any stage of cancer.

Grades and stages of prostate cancer

Measuring the grade and stage of prostate cancer helps doctors decide how to treat it. 

The grade of a cancer helps doctors predict how quickly the prostate cancer is likely to grow and spread. Doctors use a scale called the Gleason score to measure and report the grade of prostate cancer.  The Gleason score is based on how abnormal the cells appear in the two largest areas of the tumor. The pathologist assigns a score of 1-5 for each area and adds them together for the Gleason score. Although Gleason scores can range from 2-10, most prostate cancers will be scored as 6 or higher. The higher the score, the more abnormal and aggressive the cells appear. 

  • A score of 6 is low grade.
  • A score of 7 is intermediate grade.
  • A score of 8 to 10 is high grade.

An updated grading system is now in use. This is call Grade Group and corresponds to Gleason score as follows:

  • Grade Group 1: Gleason score <=6
  • Grade Group 2: Gleason score = 7 (3+4)
  • Grade Group 3: Gleason score = 7 (4+3)
  • Grade Group 4: Gleason score = 8
  • Grade Group 5: Gleason score = 9-10

The stage refers to whether the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, and if it has, the location in the body where it has spread. Doctors use the following information to stage prostate cancer:

  • size of the tumor
  • whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes 
  • the presence or absence of spread beyond the prostate and lymph nodes (metastasis
  • PSA levels at the time of diagnosis
  • Gleason score

Using this information, prostate cancer is grouped into four stages, with Stage 1 being the least advanced and Stage 4 being the most advanced.

  • Stage 1 cancer is contained to the prostate, has a Gleason score of 6 or below and a PSA level of less than 10.
  • Stage 2 cancer is more advanced but has not spread beyond the prostate.
  • Stage 3 cancer extends beyond the prostate but has not spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4 (metastatic prostate cancer) has spread to another part of the body outside of the prostate. Common areas of spread include the bladder, rectum, lymph nodes or bones.

Additional tests for staging

After grading and staging, additional tests or imaging may be done to check for cancer spread, though these are not required for all men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer.

Additional tests are run if:

  • PSA levels are high
  • The Gleason score is high
  • The cancer is large
  • The cancer has spread to lymph nodes or beyond

The tests may include:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scans of the abdomen and pelvis
  • Bone scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of your pelvis
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
  • Pelvic lymph node dissection (PLND)

Additional tests can be performed on tumor samples to help guide treatment. For some patients, tumor biomarker testing can help guide the choice of immunotherapy or targeted therapy


If you have prostate cancer, you can find peer support through the following resources:

  • Us Too is an international nonprofit organization for men with prostate cancer and their loved ones. 
  • ZERO - The End to Prostate Cancer is a nonprofit organization that provides information and support resources for men with prostate cancer. 
Last updated October 09, 2020