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A throat cancer diagnosis is done through the following tests:

  • Medical history and physical examination: The patients are examined for the existing symptoms followed by the careful evaluation of the neck, throat, and mouth. The patient is also checked for any swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck. They are enquired about the possible risk factors, underlying medical conditions, and lifestyle habits. Further, the family history of the person is asked to determine if there is an increased risk of cancer.
  • Blood tests: Although there is no blood test that confirms the presence of throat cancer, the person is recommended to undergo a comprehensive blood test to determine overall health. Blood tests are usually done before initiating cancer treatment.
  • Barium examination: Barium examination is also known as upper GI series. It involves the evaluation of the tissues, including their structure and movement of muscles, from the esophagus to the stomach. During the procedure, the person is advised to drink barium that lines the tissues and allows obtaining clear images through x-ray of GIT organs. These include the esophagus, pharynx, stomach, and duodenum.
  • Laryngoscopy: The doctor evaluates the throat through laryngoscopy. It helps in detecting any abnormality in the throat and larynx. There are several types of laryngoscopy:
      Indirect laryngoscopy: It is one of the simplest methods to analyze throat health. It involves placing a long handle with a mirror on the roof of the mouth and shining the light into the mouth. The image of the throat can be seen in the mirror. The time for this procedure is about 5 to 10 minutes.
      Direct flexible laryngoscopy: In this technique, a fiber-optic laryngoscope is guided into the throat to evaluate the pharynx and nearby areas. The procedure is performed under local anesthesia.
      Direct rigid laryngoscopy: This procedure is done with the help of a rigid laryngoscope. The procedure is performed under sedation. The small tissue sample of the abnormal areas (if detected) can also be obtained during the procedure.
      Panendoscopy: Panendoscopy is a technique that allows a comprehensive examination of the larynx, hypopharynx, esophagus, and trachea. The technique includes esophagoscopy, laryngoscopy, and bronchoscopy.
  • CT scan: CT scan provides detailed images of the neck and throat. The technique helps in determining if there is swelling in the surrounding lymph nodes. Cancer specialists may also prescribe CT scan when there is suspicion about the spread of the tumor to other organs, such as the lungs.
  • MRI: MRI, in contrast to a CT scan, uses radio waves and magnets to obtain images of the neck and other areas of the body which help in diagnosing tumors. In some cases, the contrast material, such as gadolinium, is injected into the vein prior to the scan to increase image clarity.
  • PET scan: In this technique, a radioactive form of sugar, fluorodeoxyglucose, or FDG, is injected into the blood. It is mainly collected in cells with higher metabolic rates, such as cancer cells. The technique is used to detect the spread of cancer in different parts of the body, especially during an advanced stage. In some cases, a combination of PET and CT scans is recommended.
  • Chest X-ray: If the patient presents symptoms that strongly suspect the spread of cancer to the lungs, a chest x-ray is advised.
  • Bone scan: A blood scan involves injecting a small amount of radioactive material that collects particularly at the abnormal sites of the bone. It is used to diagnose the spread of throat cancer to bones.
  • Biopsy: If the imaging techniques detect abnormal tissues in the throat, a sample of the tissue is removed and is further examined in a laboratory for the presence of cancer cells. A biopsy may be performed through endoscopy.

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