How cancer of the voicebox (larynx) is diagnosed
Usually you begin by seeing your GP, who will ask about your symptoms and examine you. They may arrange for you to have some tests or x-rays.
You may be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor or a special clinic that does tests for the symptoms you have.
The specialist will ask about your current symptoms, medical history and whether you are taking any medicines. They will also feel for any lumps in your neck. These can be caused by swollen lymph nodes.
You’ll have this test in the outpatients clinic. The doctor passes a very thin, flexible tube called a nasendoscope into your nose and down into your throat. This has a light at the end to help the doctor get a better view of the back of your mouth and throat.
You might find this a bit uncomfortable, but it only takes a few minutes. Before the procedure, you may be given an anaesthetic lozenge to suck, or the doctor may spray your throat with an anesthetic to numb it.
You shouldn’t eat or drink anything for about an hour after the test, or until the numbness wears off. This is because there’s a risk that food and drink may go down the wrong way into your lungs when you swallow. You could also burn your mouth or throat with hot drinks or food.
You will have this done if the doctor sees anything unusual in your throat, or can’t see the larynx clearly with the nasendoscope.
You’ll have a general anaesthetic for this test so that the doctor can examine all of your larynx using a laryngoscope. This is a thin, metal tube with a light on the end (endoscope), which the doctor passes down your throat. They can pass a camera down the tube or attach a microscope and examine the larynx very closely.
During the laryngoscopy, the doctor takes a small sample of cells or tissue (biopsy) from any abnormal looking areas. This is the most important test to diagnose cancer of the larynx.
A doctor called a pathologist will examine the sample under a microscope and check for cancer cells.
Fine needle aspirate (FNA)
Back to top
You may have this test if you have a lump in your neck. It’s done in the outpatient clinic and doesn’t take long. The doctor passes a fine needle into the lump and withdraws (aspirates) some cells into a syringe. This might feel a little uncomfortable but it doesn’t take long. You might have an ultrasound scan at the same time. This is a scan that uses sound waves to build a picture. It helps the doctor to make sure they take the sample of cells from the right area.
After the test a doctor will examine the sample under a microscope to check for cancer cells.