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Laryngeal Cancer: Stages

Laryngeal Cancer: Stages

invasion and metastasis
Click to Enlarge: How cancer spreads from carcinoma in situ to metastatic cancer.

After your diagnosis, your doctor will want to find out the stage of the cancer, which is a description of how far the cancer has spread.

What does the stage of cancer mean?

The stage of a cancer is how much and how far the cancer has spread in your body. Your healthcare provider uses exams and tests to find out the size of the cancer and where it is. He or she can also see if the cancer has grown into nearby areas, and if it has spread to other parts of your body. The stage of a cancer is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.

What are the stages of laryngeal cancer?

Stage 0. The cancer is only in the tissue it started in. It has not spread. This stage is also called carcinoma in situ.

Stage I. At this stage, the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. The exact definition of stage I depends on where the cancer started. It can start in any of these parts of the larynx:

  • Supraglottis. The cancer is only in 1 area of the supraglottis, the area above the vocal cords. The vocal cords move normally.

  • Glottis. The cancer is in only 1 area of the vocal cords, and the vocal cords move normally.

  • Subglottis. The cancer has not spread out of the subglottis, the area where the larynx connects to the windpipe or trachea.

Stage II. At this stage, the cancer is only in the larynx. It hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. The exact definition of stage II depends on where the cancer started and its effects on the area:

  • Supraglottis. The cancer has spread to nearby mucous membranes, such as the base of the tongue.

  • Glottis. The cancer has spread to the supraglottis or the subglottis, or both. The vocal cords may or may not be able to move normally.

  • Subglottis. The cancer has spread to the vocal cords, which may or may not be able to move normally.

Stage III. At this stage, 1 or both of these 2 things may have happened:

  • The cancer has not spread outside the larynx, but it has caused a vocal cord to stop moving. Or the cancer has spread to an area next to the larynx.

  • The cancer has spread to 1 lymph node on the same side of the neck as the cancer. The lymph node is 3 centimeters (cm) or less.

Stage IV. At this stage, any of these 3 things may have happened:

  • The cancer has caused a vocal cord to stop moving and has spread to tissues farther away from the larynx. The lymph nodes may or may not contain cancer.

  • The cancer has spread to 1 lymph node on the same side of the neck as the cancer and the node is between 3 and 6 cm. Or cancer has spread to lymph nodes anywhere in the neck and the nodes are less than 6 cm. Or cancer has spread to any lymph node that is larger than 6 cm.

  • The cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Recurrent disease means the cancer has come back after treatment. This sometimes happens when cancer cells remain in the area after treatment. It can also happen when the disease has already spread before treatment begins, but is too small to be noticed at that time and isn't treated as aggressively. The cancer can also come back, or you can develop a new cancer, if you continue to smoke and drink alcohol. The cancer may come back in the larynx or in another part of the body.

Talking with your healthcare provider

Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Make sure to ask any questions or talk about your concerns.