Your doctor will question you about your medical history and your family’s. He will then do a physical examination to examine your throat. During the examination, he will use a special lighted scope called endoscope to visualize tissues of your throat searching for signs indicating cancer. Even if he finds vivid signs of the disease, he cannot conclude you have cancer, they are simply indicators. Therefore, to confirm the diagnosis, he will perform other medical procedures, which can include:
- Laryngoscopy – the purpose of this test is to visualize the back of your throat, including your larynx and vocal cords. During the procedure, the doctor passes a narrow tube with a lens (laryngoscope) through your nose or your mouth to be able to see the upper part of the larynx. To prevent discomfort, you can be slightly anesthetized.
- Chest X- ray – this imaging technique can be performed to check if the tumor has spread into your lungs. In fact, if you have shortness of breath, persistent cough, pain in the chest, or chest trauma, a chest x-ray may be the first imaging technique recommended by your doctor.
- CT scan – this radiographic exam allows your doctor to detect abnormalities in your throat by submitting your neck to an x-ray beam. This test is very important in the diagnosis of throat cancer; it creates precise images which helps your doctor to detect not only the cancer but also metastases, in case there is any. However, as for x-ray, repeated exposure to radiation can be harmful.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – MRI is another technique often used in the diagnosis of throat cancer. It allows your doctor to visualize the tissues of your neck and detect abnormalities in your throat: inflammation, malignant growth (cancer), etc.
- Biopsy – a biopsy is the major procedure to confirm the presence of cancer cells in your throat. It involves taking sample from the suspected tumor for laboratory analysis. Sample obtained will be examined under microscope in search of cancer cells. The sampling is done through endoscopy under general anesthesia, or through a thin needle that is inserted into your neck.