How laryngeal cancer 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. You may be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor or a special clinic that does tests for the symptoms you have.

At the hospital

The specialist will ask about your symptoms, your general health and whether you are taking any medicines. They will also feel for any lumps in your neck. These may be caused by swollen lymph nodes, but can be due to other medical conditions, such as a swollen salivary gland.

Nasendoscopy

You will have this test in the outpatient clinic. Your doctor will pass a thin, flexible tube called a nasendoscope into your nose, over the back of your tongue and down into the upper part of your throat. The tube 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 anaesthetic to numb it. Some people prefer to have this done without the anaesthetic spray.

You should not 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 food or drinks.

Laryngoscopy

You will have this done if the doctor sees anything unusual in your throat, or cannot see the larynx clearly with the nasendoscope. You’ll need to 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, which the doctor passes down your throat. They can examine the larynx very closely and may use a camera, attached to the tube, to take photos.

Biopsy

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. It may take about 7 to 10 days for your results come back.

Fine needle aspirate (FNA)

You may have this test if you have a lump in your neck. You can have it in the outpatient clinic. The doctor passes a fine needle into the lump and withdraws (aspirates) some fluid or tissue into a syringe. You might have an ultrasound scan at the same time to help your doctor guide the needle into the correct area. This is a scan that uses sound waves to build a picture. After the test, a doctor will examine the sample under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Waiting for test results

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your tests to be ready. You may find it helpful to talk with your partner, family or a close friend. Your specialist nurse or one of the organisations listed on our database, can also provide support. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

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