What Is Stage 4a Throat Cancer?

Throat cancer can run from stage 1 to 4, with stage 4 being broken down into three additional categories.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2014
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Stage 4a throat cancer is a large, invasive tumor which may have spread to a neighboring lymph node, but has not metastasized, or progressed, to distant sites. This is a serious diagnosis and may require surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to tackle the tumor and prevent its spread. Survival rates can depend on the specifics of the case, the exact type of tumor involved, and the patient’s general level of health. Some patients may do very well with rapid intervention and treatment, while other patients may struggle because of preexisting conditions or unusually aggressive tumors.

Throat cancers can run from stage one to four, with stage four broken into three additional categories. Stage one is the least severe, with a highly localized tumor and no incursion on neighboring structures in the throat. The most severe is stage 4c, where the cancer has already spread through the throat, into neighboring structures, and into remote areas of the body. Patients at this advanced stage of cancer may have very low survival rates.

To make a diagnosis of stage 4a throat cancer, a doctor may request a biopsy of tissue from the tumor, along with some medical imaging studies of the head and neck. These may require the use of tracer materials or contrast to highlight structures of particular interest. The test results can be carefully reviewed to provide as much information as possible about the cancer, including the structures involved and the extent of its spread.

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In a patient with stage 4a throat cancer, a pathologist will be able to find evidence that the tumor is invading neighboring tissues, showing clear evidence of aggressive growth. It may have spread to a single lymph node located on the same side of the throat as the initial cancer, but it has not grown into any additional lymph nodes. Signs of cancer also cannot be found elsewhere in the body. Stage 4b cancers show evidence of more aggressive spread into the lymph nodes, but no distant metastasis as seen at stage 4c.

An oncologist may supervise treatment for a patient with stage 4a throat cancer. The doctor can discuss treatment options, including those that may be available through referral to another medical facility. Patients can request information about outcomes and success rates with various treatments, although it is important to be aware that it can be difficult to predict how well an individual patient will respond to cancer therapy. Support groups may have more information to offer along with tips and tricks to help people during therapy and recovery.

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