Understanding Your Stage of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer acts differently in each person. Your doctor uses staging tests, such as the imaging tests and biopsy, to determine how far it has spread. With the results of these studies, your doctor will assign your cancer a stage.

The stage of cancer is based on the the size of a cancerous tumor and where and how far it has spread. The first place cancer is found in the body is called the primary site or primary tumor. Cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body is called metastatic.

With thyroid cancer, your doctor must remove your thyroid with surgery before he or she knows the cancer's stage. The stages of thyroid cancer differ, depending on the type of cancer you have. Here is a summary of the stages for different types of this cancer.

Understanding the Stages of Papillary and Follicular Types

Stage I. This stage depends on your age. If you are younger than 45 and the cancer has not spread beyond your neck or upper chest, it is stage I. The lymph nodes near your thyroid may show cancer, but it is still stage I. If you are 45 or older, you have stage I cancer if the tumor is 2 centimeters across or smaller, is still within the thyroid, and has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes or to distant parts of the body.

Stage II. This stage also depends on your age. If you are younger than 45 and the cancer has spread to distant sites such as your lung and bones, it is stage II. If you are 45 or older, the size of the tumor is between 2 and 4 centimeters, and the cancer has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes or to distant parts of the body, you have stage II cancer.

Stage III. This stage applies to people age 45 or older. You have stage III cancer if the tumor is bigger than 4 centimeters, or if the cancer has started to spread just outside the thyroid, but has not spread to lymph nodes or distant sites; or the tumor is any size and has spread to the lymph nodes around the thyroid, but not to distant sites.

Stage IVA. This stage applies to people age 45 or older. You have stage IVA if the cancer has spread to your neck, or to the lymph nodes in the side of your neck or upper chest, but not to distant sites.

Stage IVB. This stage applies to people age 45 or older. You have stage IVB if the cancer has spread to the blood vessels in your neck or upper chest or to tissue near your backbone. It may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes, but has not spread to distant sites.

Stage IVC. This stage applies to people age 45 or older. If the cancer has spread to distant sites, you have stage IVC, no matter how big the tumor is or if it has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.

Understanding the Stages of Medullary Type

Staging for medullary thyroid carcinoma in people of any age is the same as for papillary or follicular carcinoma in people older than age 45.

Understanding the Stages of Anaplastic Type

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is always stage IV.

Stage IVA: The cancer is still within the thyroid and may be resectable (removable by surgery). It may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes, but it has not spread to distant sites.

Stage IVB: The cancer has grown outside of the thyroid and is not resectable. It may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes, but it has not spread to distant sites.

Stage IVC: The cancer is any size and may or may not have grown outside of the thyroid. It may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes. It has spread to distant sites.


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