Once cancer is diagnosed, doctors assign one of the stages of laryngeal cancer to describe each patient’s condition. Using this categorization, specialists can better recommend the appropriate treatment.
The stages of laryngeal cancer indicate whether the cancer has spread within the larynx or to other structures. Cancer can spread three ways:
- Through tissue
- Through the lymph system (lymph nodes)
- Through the blood (veins and capillaries)
Cancerous cells can form another tumor after traveling through the lymph or blood system. This is called metastasizing, and the condition must be treated or it is life threatening. Usually, the earlier a patient’s cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat the condition. Once it has metastasized, it is usually more difficult.
These are the stages of laryngeal cancer according to the National Cancer Institute:
- Stage 0 – Abnormal cells are found in the larynx and may become cancer
- Stage I – Cancer has formed from the abnormal cells and is differentiated by where the cancer is located. The vocal folds can move normally.
- Stage II – Cancer has spread to other structures in the larynx only and the vocal cords may not move correctly.
- Stage III – Cancer has spread from structures in the larynx to the lymph nodes on the same side as the tumor. Vocal cords may not move normally.
- Stage IV – Cancer has spread beyond the larynx to the neck, thyroid, esophagus, trachea, lymph nodes, space that surrounds the carotid artery, lungs, liver, bone or to parts of the chest.