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Female feeling lymph nodes in throat

Throat and oral cavity cancers refer to malignancies that develop in the mouth, oropharynx, larynx or hypopharynx. Like many other malignancies, throat and oral cavity cancers are staged according to the TNM system from the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC). This staging system focuses on three key aspects of a patient’s cancer, including:

  • The size and extent of the tumor (T) 
  • The involvement (if any) of nearby lymph nodes (N)
  • If the cancer has spread, or metastasized, to other areas of the body (M)  

Based primarily on these factors, a patient’s throat or oral cavity cancer is staged as follows:

Stage 0

Stage 0 throat or oral cavity cancer describes cancer that is starting to grow in epithelial cells—the outermost layer of cells in the mouth and throat. Cancer has not grown into deeper layers of tissue or reached nearby lymph nodes or structures.

Stage 1

Stage 1 throat or oral cavity cancer refers to a primary tumor that is smaller than 2 centimeters across, and cancer is not present in nearby lymph nodes or surrounding structures.

Stage 2

In stage 2 throat or oral cavity cancer, the primary tumor is between 2 and 4 centimeters across and cancer is not present in nearby lymph nodes or surrounding structures. 

Stage 3   

Stage 3 throat or oral cavity cancer indicates one of the following:

  • The primary tumor measures more than 4 centimeters across, but cancer cells remain confined to the tumor. 
  • The primary tumor is any size, but cancer cells have reached a lymph node on the same side of the head or neck.

Stage 4   

Stage 4 throat or oral cavity cancer can be divided into three sub-stages: 4A, 4B and 4C. Stages 4A and 4B refer to cancer that has reached nearby structures, with or without lymph node involvement, but has not metastasized to distant areas of the body. In stage 4C, cancer has traveled to distant sites such as the lungs.

A patient’s prognosis will depend on the stage of his or her cancer along with several other factors, including age, overall health and the specific type of cancer present. At Moffitt Cancer Center, our renowned Head and Neck Cancer Program offers individualized diagnostics and treatment services to patients with all types of throat and oral cavity cancers, as well as progressive treatment options from a diverse, multispecialty treatment team. Submit a new patient registration form online or call 1-888-663-3488 to request an appointment and rapidly connect with a Moffitt physician.