Grading pharyngeal cancer
Grading describes how the cancer cells look compared to normal, healthy cells. Knowing the grade gives your healthcare team an idea of how quickly the cancer may be growing and how likely it is to spread. This helps them plan your treatment. The grade can also help the healthcare team predict future outcomes (your prognosis) and how the cancer might respond to treatment.
To find out the grade of pharyngeal cancer, a pathologist looks at a tissue sample from the pharynx (throat) under a microscope. They look at how different the cells look from normal cells (called differentiation) and other features of the tumour such as the size and shape of the cells and how the cells are arranged. They can usually tell how fast a tumour is growing by looking at how many cells are dividing.
The pathologist gives pharyngeal cancer a grade from 1 to 3. A lower number means the cancer is a lower grade.
Low-grade cancers have cells that are well differentiated. The cells are abnormal but look a lot like normal cells and are arranged a lot like normal cells. Lower-grade cancer cells tend to grow slowly and are less likely to spread.
High-grade cancers have cancer cells that are poorly differentiated or undifferentiated. The cells don’t look like normal cells and are arranged very differently. Higher-grade cancers tend to grow more quickly and are more likely to spread than low-grade cancers.
Cancer Research UK. The stages of nasopharyngeal cancer. Cancer Research UK; 2014: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/nasopharyngeal-cancer/treatment/the-stages-of-nasopharyngeal-cancer#grade.
Wenig BM, Cohen JM . General principles of head and neck pathology. Harrison LB, Sessions RB, Kies MS (eds.). Head and Neck Cancer: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 1: 2 - 76.