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The Stages of Oral Cancer

The cancer treatment your doctor chooses will be based largely on the stage, or extent, of your cancer. The stage is based on the size of the tumor, how many lymph nodes are involved, and if the cancer has spread beyond the tumor where it started. Your doctor may use a variety of tests to learn the stage of your cancer.

Cancer cells can break away from the main tumor. They may start growing in other parts of the body. Most oral cancer begins in the tongue and the floor of the mouth. But it can spread to other areas, including the lymph nodes in your neck, other parts of your mouth, and adjacent structures in your face. Additionally, it can spread to other areas of the body, such as the lungs, liver, and bones.

When cancer spreads, it’s called metastasis. Even though the cancer has spread to another part of the body, it’s not considered a new cancer. If oral cancer spreads to the bones, for instance, it’s not considered bone cancer. It’s called metastatic oral cancer.

Five stage groupings are used to describe the cancer. Cancer severity increases with advancing stages. Stage 0 refers to cancer that has not invaded deeper tissue or spread, whereas stage IV includes tumors that have spread to distant sites.

“How Are Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers Staged?” American Cancer Society, February 26, 2013. www.cancer.org/Cancer/OralCavityandOropharyngealCancer/DetailedGuide/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer-staging Accessed 2013.

“What You Need to Know About Oral Cancer: Staging.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, December 23, 2009. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/oral/page7 Accessed 2013.

“What You Need to Know About Oral Cancer: Cancer Cells.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, December 23, 2009. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/oral/page3 Accessed 2013.

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