What is TNM?

The classification of cancer by anatomic disease extent, i.e. stage, is the major determinant of appropriate treatment and prognosis. Stage is an increasingly important component of cancer surveillance and cancer control and an endpoint for the evaluation of the population-based screening and early detection efforts.

The UICC has published the UICC TNM classification of malignant tumours for over 50 years. The UICC TNM classification is the internationally accepted standard for cancer staging.

The UICC TNM Classification is an anatomically based system that records the primary and regional nodal extent of the tumor and the absence or presence of metastases.

Each individual aspect of TNM is termed as a category:

  • T category describes the primary tumor site

  • N category describes the regional lymph node involvement

  • M category describes the presence or otherwise of distant metastatic spread

Why adopt the TNM Classification?

The UICC TNM staging system is the common language in which oncology health professionals can communicate on the cancer extent for individual patients as a basis for decision making on treatment management and individual prognosis but can also be used, to inform and evaluate treatment guidelines, national cancer planning and research.

More specifically, the objectives of the TNM classification are the following:

  • Aid treatment planning,

  • Provide an indication of prognosis,

  • Assist in the evaluation of treatment results,

  • Facilitate the exchange of information between treatment centres,

  • Contribute to continuing investigations of human malignancies,

  • Support cancer control activities, including through cancer registries.

The TNM classification is a unified standard and is a prerequisite for ensuring the quality of care in all resource-settings. It goes beyond clinician practice and constitutes vital information for policy-makers developing or implementing cancer control and prevention plans and it is therefore important to include the TNM classification as part of cancer registration.

You can also read the documents:

How is the TNM classification defined and updated?

The UICC TNM Project has updated and expanded the TNM Classification since its inception. For more than 50 years, the TNM project has benefited from an active participation of internationally renowned experts in cancer staging, who reside on the TNM Core Committee and its sub-committees, the Evaluation Committee and the Prognostic Factors Committee.

The TNM Core Committee, co-chaired by Drs Mary Gospodarowicz and James Brierley, reflects the multidisciplinary, geographical representation and objectives of the TNM project, with precise responsibilities for each of its members.

The TNM Core Committee also includes representatives, from FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics), IASLC (International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer) and the AJCC (American Joint Committee on Cancer), to maintain a unified TNM classification.

In addition, experts are recruited to serve on TNM Expert Panels to provide organ-based expertise for review of relevant literature and opinions on potential changes to, and adaptations of, the TNM classification.

The 21 national or regional TNM Committees, which form the Global Advisory Group, provide essential information and feedback on the use of the TNM classification at the national level and help evaluate its use and identify any specific regional concerns.

To submit a proposal for change to the UICC TNM Classification, please consult the document How to submit proposals for change and contact us at tnm@uicc.org

TNM Global Advisory Group diagram.jpg

Please use the menu on the top left to learn more about the groups and panels, publications, resources and access the Helpdesk.

For any other questions, please contact us at the following address: tnm@uicc.org

Last update: 
Friday 11 September 2020