Head & Neck Cancer Stages / Staging
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Staging is a system that describes the extent of cancer in the body. Our head and neck cancer doctors use a variety of diagnostic tests to develop an individualized treatment plan for you, according to the staging of your cancer.
The TNM System
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).
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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