Head and Neck Cancer Tests

Diagnosing Head And Neck Cancers

Precise head and neck cancer tests are crucial for treatment planning, and City of Hope is equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and specialized staff to ensure an accurate, comprehensive diagnosis of head and neck cancer.

Highlights of our screening and diagnosis services include:

  • Advanced imaging technology to better locate tumors and determine treatment response
  • Genomic and molecular profiling of the cancer, which can lead to more effective, less toxic treatments

How Are Head And Neck Cancers Detected?

Your doctor may use the following tests to look for head and neck cancer:

  • Physical exam
  • Head and neck exam: This comprehensive examination includes looking and feeling the head and neck area for suspicious lumps and using thin, flexible tubes to examine the oral, nose and/or throat cavities for signs of cancer. Depending on the procedure used, the patient may be given a localized numbing agent or placed under general anesthesia.
  • Biopsy: Examination of suspicious tissue — depending on its location. This may involve scraping the targeted area, using a fine needle to extract a sample or surgically removing a small piece of tissue.
  • CT or CAT (computed tomography) scan: This test involves taking a series of X-ray images to form a computer-generated image, which determines tumor size, location and spread. Special dyes may be used to enhance this scan.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan: This procedure uses radio waves and strong magnets to produce detailed images of the body’s tissues, including head and neck tumors.
  • HPV testing: Throat cancer patients may be tested for human papillomavirus infection, since presence or absence of the virus can guide treatment planning for better outcomes.
  • Genomic testing: The cancerous tissue is tested to see if it exhibits certain genetic mutations or molecular markers, which can be used to help determine disease progression, optimal treatments or identify risk for other cancers.

Based on the results of these tests, the cancer is then staged according to its size, number of lymph nodes affected, and whether it has spread to nearby or distant organs. Generally, cancer caught in earlier stages will have better outcomes than those caught in advanced or metastasized stages.

What Are The Current Screening Guidelines For Head And Neck Cancers?

There are currently no screening guidelines for head and neck cancers, since no screenings have been shown to lower risk of dying for people of average risk. However, your physician may recommend more vigorous monitoring if you are at a high risk of developing this disease, which includes:

  • HPV or Epstein-Barr infection
  • Family history of head and neck cancers
  • Prolonged use of tobacco products, particularly smokeless tobacco