Thyroid Cancer Staging

Thyroid cancer staging provides a useful and consistent terminology that physicians can use to describe the extent of a cancer and how far it has spread to other tissues and organs in a patient’s body. Before assigning a stage to a cancer, physicians thoroughly analyze the results of all diagnostic tests, including physical examinations, biopsies, imaging scans and blood tests. At Moffitt Cancer Center, this process is performed collaboratively by a multispecialty team of experts. Each patient receives the benefit of multiple expert opinions to help ensure the best possible care.

One widely used classification system for thyroid cancer staging is the American Joint Committee on Cancer TNM (tumor, node, metastasis) system. “T” refers to the size and location of the primary tumor, “N” indicates whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and “M” specifies whether the cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body. Each of these three categories is assigned a number ranging from zero to four, with higher numbers indicating more extensive cancers.

After designating appropriate TNM values, the experts at Moffitt review this information. The combined values correspond to one of four thyroid cancer staging categories, which are labeled by the roman numerals I through IV, with higher numbers relating to more advanced cancers.

A patient’s age is a key factor in thyroid cancer staging. To illustrate:

  • In patients who are younger than age 45, the cancer is stage 1 if it is confined to the neck or stage 2 if it has spread beyond the neck.

  • In patients who are age 45 or older, the cancer is staged on the traditional scale of 1 to 4 based on its extent.

Additionally, all anaplastic cancers are characterized as stage 4.

While a cancer’s stage can be a useful benchmark, it does not paint a complete picture, nor can it conclusively predict a patient’s outcome. The most important prognostic factors for thyroid cancer are a patient’s age at the time of diagnosis and, if a surgical procedure is performed, the success of the initial surgery. In general, the prognosis for a patient with thyroid cancer is usually excellent when the cancer is caught early and well managed. At Moffitt, our patient outcomes and survival rates consistently outrank national averages, and our patients enjoy an enhanced quality of life.

You do not need a referral to discuss thyroid cancer staging with the experts at Moffitt Cancer Center. Call 1-888-663-3488, or request to schedule an appointment online today.