Throat cancer is a type of oral cavity and pharynx cancer. This includes cancers of the pharynx, tonsils, tongue, mouth, and lip. The pharynx, also known as your throat, is the muscular tube that goes from behind your nose to your esophagus.
Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of throat cancer. This means the cancer has spread to nearby tissue, one or more lymph nodes on the neck, or other parts of the body beyond the throat.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the 5-year relative survival rate for the most advanced stage of throat cancer is 39.1 percent.
After you receive a cancer diagnosis, your oncologist will stage the cancer. Staging is a process that takes into account the cancer’s location, how large it is, how far it has spread, and how aggressive it is.
Defining the stage of cancer helps your oncologist and cancer care team make decisions about treatment options.
As part of the staging process, your oncologist may use either of these common options:
- the TNM system from the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC)
- the SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results) database grouping from the National Cancer Institute
TNM stands for Tumor, Nodes and Metastasis:
- T = the size of tumor
- N = whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, and to how many
- M = whether the cancer has spread to distant areas of the body, known as metastasis
The most advanced TNM stage of throat cancer is stage 4. In this advanced stage, the tumor can be any size, but the cancer has spread to:
- other tissue close by such as the trachea, mouth, thyroid and jaw
- one lymph node (over 3 centimeters) or many lymph nodes (any size) on the same side of the neck
- one lymph node (any size) on the opposite side of the neck
- parts of the body beyond the throat, such as the liver or lungs
The SEER program collects data on all types of cancer from a number of sources and locations in the United States. This information is categorized into 3 stages:
- Localized. For throat cancer, this stage indicates that there is no sign that the cancer has spread beyond the area of throat where it started.
- Regional. For throat cancer, this stage indicates that cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or has grown outside the original tissue and into other nearby tissue or structures.
- Distant. For throat cancer, this stage indicates that the cancer has spread to distant areas, such as the liver.
Oral cavity and pharynx cancer
The five-year relative survival rate for oral cavity and pharynx cancer by stage is:
- Localized: 83.7 percent
- Regional: 65 percent
- Distant: 39.1 percent
The larynx is an organ that houses the vocal cords and the epiglottis, which stops food from entering the airways. It is vital for talking, digesting and breathing.
The five-year relative survival rate for laryngeal cancer by stage is:
- Localized: 77.5 percent
- Regional: 45.6 percent
- Distant: 33.5 percent
Although not in your throat, your thyroid is a gland located in the front of your neck. It produces hormones that regulate your metabolism.
The majority of thyroid cancers are differentiated cancers such as papillary cancer or follicular cancer.
The five-year relative survival rate for thyroid cancer by stage is:
- Localized: 99.9 percent
- Regional: 98 percent
- Distant: 55.5 percent
The NCI indicates that oral cavity and pharynx cancers represent 3 percent of all new cancer cases. It also reports that statistical models show new oral cavity and pharynx cancer cases have been rising an average of 0.7 percent each year for the past 10 years.
Throat cancer is often grouped under the category of head and neck cancers. Head and neck cancers are cancers that start in the throat and head, but do not include cancers of the eye or brain cancers.
To lower your risk for head and neck cancers:
- Don’t smoke tobacco, including cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. If you do smoke, start taking steps to quit and speak with your doctor about smoking cessation programs and other helpful resources.
- Don’t use smokeless tobacco products such as snuff and chewing tobacco.
- Limit your consumption of alcoholic beverages.
- Protect yourself from the human papillomavirus (HPV); consider the HPV vaccines if younger than 26.
- Treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
If you have received a throat cancer diagnosis, your oncologist might give you a life expectancy that differs from the relative survival rates. This is because these rates don’t account for individual factors, such as your:
- overall health
- response to treatment, such as chemotherapy
Also, the relative survival rates do not reflect recent improvements in treatment.
Before you apply these statistics to yourself, talk with your doctor about your specific situation and treatment plan. They can give you a more accurate prognosis.