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Head and neck cancer stages

Making an educated treatment decision begins with the stage, or progression, of the disease. The stage of head and neck cancer is one of the most important factors in evaluating treatment options.

Our cancer doctors use a variety of diagnostic tests to evaluate head and neck cancer and develop an individualized treatment plan. If you have been recently diagnosed, we will review your pathology to confirm you have received the correct diagnosis and staging information, and develop a personalized treatment plan. If you have a recurrence, we will perform comprehensive testing and identify a treatment approach that is suited to your needs.

Cancer staging is the process used to determine how much a cancer has spread.

Head and neck cancer stages are based on the results of physical exams, endoscopies, biopsies and any imaging tests (CT scan, MRI, chest X-ray and/or PET scans).

Video: Cancer Staging

Cancer Staging

TNM system for head and neck cancer

The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) developed the TNM cancer staging system to evaluate three primary factors when it comes to treating cancer: T, N and M:

  • Tumor (T) refers to the size of the primary tumor and to which, if any, tissues in the oral cavity and oropharynx the cancer has spread.
  • Node (N) describes the involvement of lymph nodes near the primary tumor. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped clusters of immune system cells that are key to fighting infections and are usually one of the first sites in the body to which cancer spreads.
  • Metastasis (M) indicates whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body. With oral cancer, the most common site of metastases is the lungs, followed by the liver and bones.

During the head and neck cancer staging process, your doctor will assign T, N and M values to the disease based on its microscopic appearance. Your care team at CTCA will thoroughly review your medical history, family history and other factors to develop an individualized treatment plan for you.

We're here to guide you through the cancer journey

We understand you may be feeling overwhelmed with questions and concerns about your type of cancer and what it all means. We're here to help guide you through the process.

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