Staging of anaplastic thyroid cancer

The stage of a cancer describes its size and whether it has spread. This information is about staging anaplastic thyroid cancer.

What is staging of anaplastic thyroid cancer?

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.

Different types of thyroid cancer are staged differently. This information is about staging anaplastic thyroid cancer.

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TNM staging

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.

Number staging

All anaplastic thyroid cancers are stage 4. They are divided into 3 groups, from A to C.

Stage 4A

The tumour has not grown outside the thyroid gland.

Stage 4B

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.

Stage 4C

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.

About our information

  • References

    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 cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    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].

  • Reviewers

    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.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.