Throat cancer stages

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 3, 2022.


Designing an individualized treatment plan for throat cancer begins with the stage, or progression, of the disease. The stage of throat cancer is one of the most important factors in evaluating throat cancer treatment options.

The care team uses a variety of diagnostic tests to evaluate throat cancer and develop an individualized treatment plan. After a patient receives a diagnosis, the care team will review his or her pathology to confirm the diagnosis and staging information before developing a personalized treatment plan. If a patient has a cancer recurrence, the care team will perform comprehensive testing and identify a treatment approach that's suited to the patient's needs.

How is throat cancer staged?

The care team stages throat cancer using The American Joint Committee on Cancer’s (AJCC) TNM system, a commonly accepted method based on three key components:

T (tumor): This describes the size of the original tumor.

N (node): This indicates whether the cancer is present in the lymph nodes.

M (metastasis): This refers to whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

A number (0-4) or the letter X is assigned to each factor. A higher number indicates increasing severity. For instance, a T1 score indicates a smaller tumor than a T2 score. The letter X means the information could not be assessed.

Once the T, N and M scores have been established, an overall stage is assigned.

Stages of throat cancer

Stage 1 throat cancer

The tumor is small (2 cm or less across) and limited to the throat.

Stage 2 throat cancer

The tumor has grown larger (usually between 2 cm and 4 cm) but still remains within the throat. There is no evidence of spread to lymph nodes or distant sites.

Stage 3 throat cancer

The tumor has grown beyond the throat and may extend into nearby tissues or organs. The cancer may or may not have spread to a nearby lymph node.

Stage 4 throat cancer

The tumor may be any size and remain in the neck, or it may have affected multiple lymph nodes. It may also have spread to distant sites, such as the lungs.

Throat cancer survival rate

Identifying the stage of cancer not only helps the care team determine a treatment plan, it also helps predict a potential prognosis. This is achieved by calculating the percentage of people with throat cancer who survive five years after diagnosis compared to people who don’t have that type of cancer. It’s important to remember that this is only a statistic based on all people with throat cancer several years in the past, so individual patient experiences may vary. 

The National Cancer Institute SEER Program bases the survival rate for throat cancer on where the cancer started and how far the cancer has spread. The three stages are listed below.

Localized: The cancer hasn’t spread beyond the tissue in which it developed.

Regional: The cancer has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes.

Distant: The cancer has spread to farther reaches of the body.

Two of the most common types of throat cancer are pharyngeal and laryngeal cancer.

Laryngeal cancer survival rate

The overall five-year relative survival rate for laryngeal cancer is 61.6 percent, according to the SEER program.

  • Localized: 79.4 percent
  • Regional: 46.9 percent
  • Distant: 34.4 percent

Pharyngeal cancer survival rate

The overall five-year relative survival rate for oral cavity and pharynx cancer is 68.5 percent, according to the SEER program.

  • Localized: 86.6 percent
  • Regional: 69.1 percent
  • Distant: 39.3 percent

Next topic: How is throat cancer diagnosed?

Expert cancer care

is one call away.
appointments in as little as 24 hrs.