The stage of a cancer describes its size and whether it has spread from where it started. Staging systems help doctors plan the best treatment and give an idea of what is likely to happen.
We also have information about:
The most common staging system is the TNM system.
T describes the size of the tumour and whether it has spread into nearby tissues around the thyroid gland.
N describes whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes close to the thyroid gland.
M describes whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or the bones (metastatic).
T – Tumour
Doctors put a number next to the T to describe the size and spread of the cancer. All anaplastic thyroid cancers are T4.
T4 means the tumour has grown outside the thyroid gland and is attached to nearby structures.
- T4a means the tumour has started to grow into nearby structures, such as the voicebox (larynx), windpipe (trachea) or gullet (oesophagus).
- T4b means the tumour has grown into the area close to the spine or into a major blood vessel in the neck or upper chest.
N – Nodes
The N may have a number written next to it. This gives information about the nodes that were examined.
N0 means the lymph nodes are not affected.
N1 means the cancer has spread to lymph nodes close to the thyroid gland or in the neck or chest area.
- N1a means the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes in the middle of the neck, close to the thyroid gland.
- N1b means the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the side of the neck or top of the chest.
M – Metastases
The M may have a number written next to it. This gives information about whether the cancer has spread.
- M0 means the cancer has not spread within the body.
- M1 means the cancer has spread to another part of the body.
All anaplastic thyroid cancers are stage 4. They are divided into 3 groups, from A to C.
The tumour has not grown outside the thyroid gland.
The tumour may have grown outside the thyroid gland. It may have spread to lymph nodes in the middle of the neck or upper chest. It has not spread to other parts of the body.
The tumour is any size and the cancer may or may not have spread to lymph nodes. It has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or the bones.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our thyroid cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at email@example.com
British Medical Journal. Best Practice Guidelines, Thyroid cancer. 2020.
European Society Medical Oncology (ESMO): Thyroid cancer, Clinical Practice Guidelines for Diagnosis, Treatment and Follow-up. 2019.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). TA535: Lenvatinib and Sorafenib for treating differentiated thyroid cancer after radioactive iodine. 2018. www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta535 [accessed May 2021].
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.
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