Health A-Z

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Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you have throat cancer, he or she will examine your throat. This can be done with a long-handled mirror or with a lighted tube called a laryngoscope. He or she might give you a local anesthetic to ease discomfort.

If your doctor finds any abnormalities, he or she will do a biopsy. This involves removing bits of tissue for examination under a microscope. Throat cancer can only be confirmed through a biopsy.

Your doctor might send you for a test called a computed tomography (CT) scan. This special type of x-ray creates images of the body from different angles, producing a cross-sectional view. A CT scan can help to locate a tumor, judge whether a tumor can be removed surgically, and determine the cancer's stage of development.

Doctors describe cancer using numerical stages. For example, a Stage 0 or Stage I tumor has not grown very far into tissues. A Stage III or IV tumor may be growing through and beyond nearby tissues.

PET scanning is the newest way to evaluate the extent of a cancer. The test helps to determine whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck or other parts of the body. Doctors may also use it to plan your treatment, or as part of your long-term follow-up care.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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