Because no two people develop head and neck cancer in the same way, we offer a wide array of resources for proper evaluation of your case.
Your provider will start by taking your medical history and performing a physical exam to feel for swollen lymph nodes in the neck, look down your throat with a small, long-handled mirror, and check your lips and oral cavity for abnormal areas. Then, we may use any combination of these tests and procedures to find and stage throat cancer:
- Barium swallow (upper GI series). A liquid containing barium coats the lining of the esophagus and stomach for diagnostic X-rays.
- Biopsy. The only definitive way to diagnose cancer cells. We remove cells or tissues for viewing under a microscope.
- Bronchoscopy. We insert a thin, lighted tube called a bronchoscope into the trachea and lungs through the nose or mouth to check for abnormal areas or to take tissue samples for biopsy.
- Computed tomography scan (CT). A type of X-ray creates detailed, highly accurate, cross-sectional images of the body.
- Endoscopy. We insert a thin, lighted tube called an endoscope through a body opening or a small incision in the skin to examine internal organs and tissues for abnormalities; may also be used to take tissue samples or lymph nodes for biopsy.
- Esophagoscopy. We insert a thin, lighted tube called an esophagoscope into the esophagus through the nose or mouth to check for abnormal areas or take tissue samples for biopsy.
- Exfoliative cytology. We use a piece of cotton, a brush or a small wooden stick to gently scrape cells from the lips, tongue, mouth, or throat to check for abnormalities by viewing under a microscope.
- Laryngoscopy. We use a thin, lighted tube called a laryngoscope or a hand-held mirror to examine the voice box, or larynx.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A magnetic field instead of X-rays provides detailed images of body structures.
- Positron emission tomography (PET scan). An injection of a short-lived radioactive substance creates detailed images of body structures that help identify cancer and areas of inflammation in different parts of the body.
- Serum tumor marker test. We check a blood sample for amounts of certain substances called tumor markers released by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body that indicate specific types of cancer when found at increased levels.
- Ultrasound. High-energy sound waves bounce off internal tissues or organs and make images of body tissues, called a sonogram.