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Staging is the process of finding out how far the cancer has spread. This is very important because the type of treatment and the outlook for your recovery depend on the stage of the cancer. Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers are staged based on the results of exams, tests, and biopsies as described in “How are laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers found?

The staging system most often used for these cancers is the TNM staging system, also known as the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) system.

This system gives 3 key pieces of information:

  • T stands for tumor (its size and how far it has spread within the larynx or hypopharynx and to nearby tissues).
  • N describes whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • M stands for spread (metastasis) to distant organs. These cancers most often spread to the lungs, bones, or liver.

All of this information is combined to assign the stage of the cancer. 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 IV (1 - 4). The smaller the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, for example stage IV, means a more advanced disease.

Ask your doctor to explain the stage of your cancer in a way you can understand. This will help you take a more active role in making choices about your treatment.

Last Medical Review: 04/08/2014
Last Revised: 02/17/2016