Stages of salivary gland cancer

Staging describes or classifies a cancer based on how much cancer there is in the body and where it is when first diagnosed. This is often called the extent of cancer. Information from tests is used to find out the size of the tumour, which parts of the organ have cancer, whether the cancer has spread from where it first started and where the cancer has spread. Your healthcare team uses the stage to plan treatment and estimate the outcome (your prognosis).

The most common staging system for salivary gland cancer is the TNM system. For salivary gland cancer there are 4 stages. Often the stages 1 to 4 are written as the Roman numerals I, II, III and IV. Generally, the higher the stage number, the more the cancer has spread. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about staging.

When describing the stage, doctors may use the words local, regional or distant. Local means that the cancer is only in a salivary gland and has not spread to other parts of the body. Regional means close to the salivary gland or around it. Distant means in a part of the body farther from the salivary gland.

Find out more about staging cancer.

Stage 1

The tumour is only in the salivary gland and is not larger than 2 cm.

Stage 2

The tumour is only in the salivary gland and is larger than 2 cm but not larger than 4 cm.

Stage 3

The tumour is larger than 4 cm and may have grown outside of the salivary gland.



The cancer has spread to 1 lymph node in the neck that is not larger than 3 cm and is on the same side of the neck as the tumour.

Stage 4

Stage 4 salivary gland cancer can be divided into stages 4A, 4B or 4C depending on:

  • which nearby areas the tumour has grown into, such as the overlying skin, skull or lower jawbone (mandible)
  • the number and size of the lymph nodes with cancer
  • if the cancer has grown outside of lymph nodes (extranodal extension)
  • whether the lymph nodes are on the same or opposite side of the neck as the tumour, or on both sides of the neck
  • if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body farther from the salivary gland with cancer, such as to the lungs or liver (called distant metastasis or metastatic salivary gland cancer).

Recurrent salivary gland cancer

Recurrent salivary gland cancer means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. If it comes back in the same place that the cancer first started, it’s called local recurrence. If it comes back in tissues or lymph nodes close to where it first started, it’s called regional recurrence. It can also recur in another part of the body. This is called distant metastasis or distant recurrence.

Expert review and references

  • Brierley JD, Gospodarowicz MK, Wittekind C (eds.). TNM Classification of Malignant Tumours. 8th ed. Wiley Blackwell; 2017.

Medical disclaimer

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