There are several different systems used to describe throat cancer stages and they all depend on the size, location, and spread of the tumor. Staging is important information to have before treatment, and patients who want more information should not be afraid to ask about the specific details of their cancers. To stage a cancer, the doctor will use medical imaging studies, biopsies, and other tests to collect as much data as possible about the tumor.
One staging system grades a cancer from zero through five. These throat cancer stages depend on tumor size, lymph node involvement, and level of metastasis. In a stage zero cancer, abnormal cells are present but show no signs of spreading. Stage one cancers are small with no lymph node involvement, while stage two cancers are larger, but the lymph nodes are still clean. In stage three throat cancer, the patient has cancerous cells in a lymph node on the same side of the throat as the cancer.
A patient with stage four throat cancer has cancer cells in neighboring tissues and multiple lymph nodes; she may have tumors around the lips and tongue, for example. The final stage is five, where cancerous cells are present in a remote location, showing that the cancer has spread throughout the body. These throat cancer stages represent escalating severity, and the treatments for each progressive stage tend to be more aggressive and invasive.
Another system to rank throat cancer stages is the TNM rubric. In this staging scale, a doctor looks at the size of the tumor, the level of lymph node involvement, and the number and location of metastases. These stages of throat cancer have higher values for more aggressive and invasive cancers. Patients with high stages of throat cancer like T4N2M1, indicating that the cancer is large, spreading to numerous lymph nodes, and growing in distant tissues, need rapid medical interventions.
Patients should meet with multiple doctors after a throat cancer diagnosis to get information about treatment options. They may want to ask about life expectancy, quality of life, and the risks and benefits of different treatments. More information about the throat cancer stages can also be helpful, as a doctor may use an unusual rubric to grade the cancer, and the patient should make sure he understands what the staging numbers mean in his case. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and patients may be able to access more choices through a clinical trial.