Doctors use a process called staging to determine how far the cancer has spread. This information helps doctors understand your prognosis (probable outcome based on others’ experiences) and develop your treatment plan.
When determining the cancer stage, doctors look at many factors, including:
- Size of the main tumor and whether it has spread to other parts of the throat or mouth
- Whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and if so, which ones
- Whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body or distant organs
Stage 0 describes the early signs of disease and Stage 4 indicates an advanced case. Staging for pharyngeal cancer can be complicated. It may differ based upon the part of the throat affected or whether HPV is the cause of cancer. There are many variables involved in staging throat cancers, so talk with your doctor to understand your situation.
In general terms, pharyngeal cancer stages are:
Stage 0: Abnormal cells are in one layer of the pharynx’s tissue and haven’t spread elsewhere. This stage is also called carcinoma in situ, which means “in its original place.”
Stage 1: A cancerous tumor of 2 cm or smaller is in the pharynx. It hasn’t grown into nearby tissues, lymph nodes, or distant parts of the body.
Stage 2: The tumor is larger than 2 cm but no larger than 4 cm. It has not spread to lymph nodes or other body areas.
Stage 3: The tumor is larger than 4 cm and may have entered nearby lymph nodes and tissues. Cancer has not spread to distant body parts.
Stage 4: This stage is divided into several substages, each describing how the cancer has spread to nearby or distant parts of the body.