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The Stages of Cancer

All types of cancer can be staged and the most common system is that published by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system.

Whilst treatment is very much individualised, the staging system provides a framework for formulating treatment, giving patients an idea of prognosis and comparing outcomes for research and audit.

This system gives three key pieces of information:

• T stands for tumour (how far it has spread within the larynx or hypopharynx and to nearby tissues)
• N describes whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes
• M stands for spread (metastasis) to distant organs

All of this information is combined to arrive at a stage. After stage 0 (which is carcinoma in situ or cancer that has not grown beyond the lining layer of cells), stages are labeled using Roman numerals from I through to IV (1-4). The smaller the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number for example, (stage IV) means a more serious stage of the disease.