There are several tools a doctor can use to test for throat cancer. They will typically start with a physical examination and a discussion of the person’s symptoms.
If they suspect throat cancer, they may order a laryngoscopy. A laryngoscope is an instrument that allows a doctor to see inside a person’s throat in order to identify any abnormalities.
During a laryngoscopy, the doctor may take a biopsy of the throat tissue. They will then send the tissue sample to a laboratory technician, who will examine it for signs of cancer.
There are three types of biopsy. These are:
- a conventional biopsy, which involves cutting away a piece of the tissue
- an endoscopic biopsy, which involves removing a piece of tissue using a flexible tube, or endoscope, inserted through the mouth
- a fine needle aspiration, which uses a needle to extract cells from a tumor
If the biopsy returns a positive result for throat cancer, the doctor will assign a stage to it. This stage indicates how advanced the cancer is.
The five stages of throat cancer and their descriptions are as follows:
- Stage 0: Abnormal cells are present within the lining of the throat.
- Stage 1: A tumor is present and measures 2 centimeters (cm) or less. It has not spread to a lymph node.
- Stage 2: The tumor is 2–4 cm. It has not spread to a lymph node.
- Stage 3: The tumor is larger than 4 cm or has spread to a lymph node on the same side of the neck. The affected lymph node is smaller than 3 cm.
- Stage 4: The cancer has spread to several lymph nodes or to other tissues and organs within the body.
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