Grade Groups of prostate cancer

The Grade Group is the most common system doctors use to grade prostate cancer. It is also known as the Gleason score.

The grade of a cancer tells you how much the cancer cells look like normal cells. This gives your doctor an idea of how the cancer might behave and what treatment you need.

To find out the Grade Group, a pathologist Open a glossary item looks at several samples of cells from your prostate. These are called biopsies.

How do doctors find out your Grade Group?

The pathologist grades each sample of prostate cancer cells from 3 to 5 based on how quickly they are likely to grow or how aggressive the cells look. You may hear this score being called the Gleason grade. 

Doctors then work out an overall Gleason score by adding together the 2 most common Gleason grades. So for example, if the most common Gleason grade is 3, and the second most common is 4, then the overall Gleason score is 7. Or they might write the scores separately as 3 + 4 = 7. This combined score is now called the Grade Group.

There are 5 Grade Groups. Grade Group 1 is the least aggressive and Grade Group 5 is the most aggressive. 

This is how the Gleason score and Grade Groups match up and what it means:

Gleason scoreGrade GroupWhat it means
Gleason score 6 (or 3 + 3 = 6)Grade Group 1The cells look similar to normal prostate cells. The cancer is likely to grow very slowly, if at all
Gleason score 7 (or 3 + 4 = 7)Grade Group 2Most cells still look similar to normal prostate cells. The cancer is likely to grow slowly
Gleason score 7 (or 4 + 3 = 7)Grade Group 3The cells look less like normal prostate cells. The cancer is likely to grow at a moderate rate
Gleason score 8 (or 4 + 4 = 8)Grade Group 4Some cells look abnormal. The cancer might grow quickly or at a moderate rate
Gleason score 9 or 10 (or 4 + 5 = 9, 5 + 4 = 9 or 5 + 5 = 10)Grade Group 5The cells look very abnormal. The cancer is likely to grow quickly

It can be difficult to understand what the Gleason score and Grade Group mean in your situation. Ask your doctor or specialist nurse if you have any questions about this. 

Treatment

The Grade Groups are important factors that help your doctor recommend if you need treatment and the type of treatment you need. Doctors also consider the following things:

  • your PSA blood test level
  • the TNM stage of your cancer

If your cancer has not spread then the Grade Group, PSA and TNM stage is combined to divide your cancer into one of the 5 Cambridge Prognostic Groups (CPGs). 

Doctors also consider other factors when recommending the best treatment for you:

  • how much cancer there is. This is based on the number of biopsy Open a glossary item samples that had cancer divided by the number of biopsies taken
  • your age and general health
  • whether you have an increased chance of having aggressive cancer based on any gene Open a glossary item changes you might have
  • how you feel about what the treatments involve and the side effects

You might not have treatment straight away if your doctors think that it’s unlikely it will give you much benefit. Your doctor monitors your cancer and starts treatment if the cancer begins to grow. Depending on your situation, they may call this active surveillance or watchful waiting.

If you decide to have treatment this might include:

  • surgery to remove your prostate
  • external beam radiotherapy
  • internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy)
  • hormone therapy alone or in combination with radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • symptom control treatment
  • high frequency ultrasound therapy (HIFU) as part of a clinical trial
  • cryotherapy as part of a clinical trial

Tools to help you decide

The Predict Prostate tool can help you decide between monitoring and more radical treatment. It is for men whose prostate cancer hasn't spread.

It can't tell you exactly what is going to happen in the future, but it gives you an idea about the differences in survival between the different treatment options. The tool works less well for men with a very high PSA or those with a fast growing or large tumour.  

To be able to use the tool you need to know the following about your cancer:

  • PSA level
  • stage of cancer (T stage)
  • grade of cancer
  • the Gleason score

Speak to your doctor if you want to find out more about this or if you need help using the tool. There is a video explaining what the tool is about. The video is 1 minute and 48 seconds long. 

Last reviewed: 
26 May 2022
Next review due: 
26 May 2025
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