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Nose and Sinus Cancers

Determining the Stage of the Cancer

The final step before discussing treatment options is a determination of the stage of the cancer. Like for all cancers of the head and neck, doctors in the U.S. use the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual (7th Ed) to determine the stage based on three factors.

Factors that go into determining the stage of the cancer
T Characteristics of the main tumor mass
N Status of the lymph nodes in the neck (i.e., evidence of cancer spread)
M Status of cancer spread to parts of the body outside of the head and neck

Note that there are different staging systems for maxillary sinus cancers versus ethmoid and nasal cavity cancers. Those staging systems apply to all forms of carcinoma (hence, they do not apply to mucosal melanoma, lymphomas and sarcomas). Mucosal melanomas of the head and neck have their own staging system as well.

At first, you will be given a clinical stage based on all of the available information.

  • Clinical staging (cTNM) is determined from any information your doctor might have about how extensive the cancer is BEFORE starting any treatment. Stage is determined based on your doctor’s physical exam, imaging studies, laboratory work and biopsies. Classification of clinical stage is described using the lower case prefix c (e.g., cT, cN, cM).

Once the diagnostic tests are completed, before deciding what type of treatment you are going to receive, you should be given a clinical stage that will look similar to the example below.

CLINICAL STAGE
Example
Site Maxillary Sinus
Type Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Grade Well Differentiated
cT cT2
cN cN1
cM cM0
cStage cIII

* The lower-case subscript c indicates that this is a CLINICAL STAGE, the stage assigned based on all information available to your doctor before starting treatment.

If there is surgical removal of the cancer as part of your treatment, a pathologist will analyze the tumor and any lymph nodes that may have been removed. You will then be assigned a pathologic stage.

  • Pathologic staging (pTNM) provides more data. Classification of pathology stage is described using the lower case prefix p (e.g., pT, pN, pM). This may or may not differ from the clinical stage.

Your pathologic stage may look something like this:

PATHOLOGIC STAGE
Example
Site Maxillary Sinus
Type Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Grade Moderately Differentiated
pT pT2
pN pN0
cM cM0
pStage pII

* The lower-case subscript p indicates that this is a PATHOLOGIC STAGE, the stage assigned after tumor removal and confirmation of cancer by a pathologist.

There are also a number of other lower-case prefixes that might be used in the staging of your cancer.

  • The subscript y (yTNM) is used to assign a cancer stage after some sort of medical, systemic or radiation treatment is given (Posttherapy or Postneoadjuvant Stage). It is typically combined with either a clinical or pathologic stage. For example, ycT2N0M0 indicates that after some sort of non-surgical therapy, the new clinical stage is T2N0M0.
  • The subscript r (rTNM) is used when the tumor has recurred after some period of time in which it was gone. This is called Retreatment Classification Stage. Your doctor will use all the available information to assign you a retreatment stage.
References

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17 Dulguerov P, Jacobsen MS, Allal AS, Lehmann W, Calcaterra T. Nasal and paranasal sinus carcinoma: are we making progress? A series of 220 patients and a systematic review. Cancer. 2001;92(12):3012-3029. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11753979.

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23 Homer, J., F.R.C.S., Jones, N., F.R.C.S., & Bradley, P., F.R.C.S. (1997). The role of endoscopy in the management of nasal neoplasia. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy, 11(1), 41-48. doi:10.2500/105065897781446757

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