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Papillary thyroid cancer is staged according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system, which considers the tumor’s size, lymph node involvement and spread throughout the body (metastasis). Thyroid cancer can be ranked from stage 1 through 4, with 4 being the most advanced.

Age and papillary thyroid cancer staging

The staging process for papillary thyroid cancer is unique from that used for most other cancers in that the patient’s age plays a major role. Outcomes for patients with papillary thyroid cancer – the most common type of thyroid cancer – are generally better in patients who are younger than age 55. Taking this into account, all patients who are under 55 are considered to have stage 1 cancer unless the cancer has spread anywhere beyond the thyroid, in which case it is classified as stage 2.

Staging papillary thyroid cancer in patients who are age 55 and older is a different process. In accordance with the TNM system, the following criteria are used:

  • Stage 1 – The cancer is confined to the thyroid.
  • Stage 2 – The cancer has traveled to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3 – The cancer has spread to the larynx, trachea, esophagus or laryngeal nerve.
  • Stage 4 – The cancer has spread to distant areas of the body or deep within the neck structures.

It is important to note that determining a prognosis involves much more than the criteria listed above. Other factors can influence a patient’s outlook and treatment options, such as the biological composition of the tumor and the patient’s overall health.

A full range of thyroid cancer diagnostic, treatment and supportive care services is available to patients at Moffitt Cancer Center’s Thyroid Clinic. Our multispecialty team takes a collaborative approach to addressing thyroid cancer that ensures each patient can achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life. If you would like to speak with a Moffitt oncologist about your thyroid cancer symptoms or treatment options or to receive a second opinion, complete a new patient registration form online or call 1-888-663-3488 .  A referral is not required to visit Moffitt.