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Staging Thyroid Cancer: How bad is it?

Staging is the process of finding out if and how far a cancer has spread. The stage of a cancer is important in choosing the best treatment. The stage can also help predict the patient's outlook (prognosis) and chance for a cure. 
Staging is based on the results of the physical exam, biopsy, and imaging tests (ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, chest x-ray, and other tests), which are described in the section, "How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?"

The most common system used to describe the stages of thyroid cancer is the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system. The stages of thyroid cancer are usually labeled using Roman numerals I through IV (1-4). As a rule, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV (4), means a more advanced cancer. Unlike most other cancers, thyroid cancers are grouped into stages in a way that also takes into account the type of thyroid cancer and the patient's age.

Recurrent thyroid cancerCancer that comes back after treatment is called recurrent (or relapsed). If thyroid cancer returns it is usually in the neck, but it may show up in a different part of the body (for instance, lymph nodes, lungs, or bones). The presence of recurrent disease does not change the stage as first assigned. If you have any questions about the stage of your cancer or how it affects your treatment options, do not hesitate to ask your doctor.

Last Medical Review: 08/05/2011

Last Revised: 08/05/2011