THE GLEASON GRADING SYSTEM

Remember the numbers associated with my biopsy specimens? Let’s get back to those. During my phone conversation with the urologist before my vacation, I was told I had a “Gleason 6” staging. Or maybe I understood that in my mind. Remember this, it will be important later in the journey.

Normally the pathology report will list each specimen or “core” (named such because it’s a “core needle biopsy”) separately by a number assigned to it by the pathologist, with each core, having its own diagnosis. The cores are listed separately because If cancer is found, it’s often not in every core, so the each core has to be examined separately to accurately make a diagnosis.

Pathologists grade prostate cancers using numbers 3 or higher based on how much the cells in the specimens look like normal prostate tissue under the microscope. Grades 1 and 2 are not used. Instead, if the core sample present with cells that look normal, it is designated as “benign.” This is called the Gleason System. Most biopsy samples are grade 3 or higher.

Since prostate cancer specimens can often have areas with different grades, a grade is assigned to the two areas that make up most of the cancer. These two grades are then added together to give the Gleason Score. In this system the higher the number, the more likely the probability of spread and thus the higher stage the cancer. The highest a Gleason sum can be is 10. Recall that the numbers are designated as a sum: 3+3, 3+4 or 4+3. The first number assigned is the grade that is most common in the specimen. For example, if the Gleason score is written as 3+4=7, it means most of the tumor is grade 3 and less of it is grade 4, and they are added for a Gleason score of 7. This sum can also be designated as 4+3=7. Although this is the same Gleason score, most of the cancer is grade 4, which is obviously higher. If a tumor is all the same grade (for example, grade 3), then the Gleason score is reported as 3+3=6.

Although most often the Gleason score is based on the two areas that make up most of the specimen, when a core sample has either a lot of high-grade cancer or there are three different grades including high-grade cancer, a higher score is determined to reflect the aggressive nature of the cancer.

The other significant part of the pathology report, besides the Gleason score is the volume of each specimen. This basically refers to the percentage involvement that each specimen is affected by cancer. For instance, one of my specimens, the one graded at 3+4, had 50% volume. And one of the 3 + 3 specimens had 40% volume. These are consistent with a possible greater involvement of the prostate gland and a greater possibility of spread.

This certainly was a cause for concern. However, I already knew from the scans that there was no spread. Next stop: Treatment Plan.

As we continue to raise awareness for prostate cancer, please remember men: Although there may not be a hard rule for screening, talk to your doctor about a PSA test if you’re between 45 and 55 years old. Screening should be done at 40-45 years of age for African Americans, Latinos or if there’s a strong family history.

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