What is staging of medullary thyroid cancer?

The stage of a cancer describes its size and whether it has spread beyond the area of the body where it started.

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

We also have information about:

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. They range from T1 to T4.

T1 means the tumour is 2cm or smaller and has not grown outside the thyroid gland.

T4 means the tumour is any size and has spread to nearby structures in the neck.

N – Nodes

The N may have a number written next to it, which 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 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, which 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

Doctors often combine the information from the TNM system into an overall number stage, from 1 to 4.

Stage 1

The tumour is no bigger than 2cm. It has not grown or spread outside the thyroid gland.

Stage 2

The tumour is between 2cm and 4cm. The cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes and it is not growing outside the thyroid gland.

Or the tumour is bigger than 4cm or it has grown slightly outside the thyroid gland. The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Stage 3

The tumour is any size and it may or may not have grown slightly outside the thyroid gland. The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes in the middle of the neck. It has not spread to other parts of the body.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is divided into three groups, from A to C:

  • Stage 4A – the tumour has grown outside the thyroid gland and into nearby surrounding tissues. The cancer may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes. It has not spread to other parts of the body.

    Or the tumour is any size or has grown slightly outside the thyroid gland. The cancer may or may not have spread outside the thyroid gland and into surrounding tissue. It has spread to lymph nodes in the side of the neck or top of the chest. It has not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Stage 4B – the tumour is any size and the cancer has spread to nearby structures in the neck. It may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes. 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.

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