Medical Definition of Tumor grade

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

Tumor grade: The degree of abnormality of cancer cells, a measure of differentiation, the extent to which cancer cells are similar in appearance and function to healthy cells of the same tissue type. The degree of differentiation often relates to the clinical behavior of the particular tumor. Based on the microscopic appearance of cancer cells, pathologists commonly describe tumor grade by four degrees of severity: Grades 1, 2, 3, and 4. The cells of Grade 1 tumors are often well-differentiated or low-grade tumors, and are generally considered the least aggressive in behavior. Conversely, the cells of Grade 3 or Grade 4 tumors are usually poorly differentiated or undifferentiated high-grade tumors, and are generally the most aggressive in behavior.

The grade of a tumor may be used to plan treatment and estimate the future course and outcome of disease (prognosis) with certain types of cancers, such as soft tissue sarcoma, primary brain tumors, lymphomas, and breast and prostate cancer.

Some cancers also have special grading systems. For example, pathologists use the Gleason system to describe the degree of differentiation of prostate cancer cells. The Gleason system uses scores ranging from Grade 2 to Grade 10. Lower Gleason scores describe well-differentiated, less aggressive tumors. Higher scores describe poorly-differentiated, more aggressive tumors.

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018