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Larynx Cancer
Diagnosis

In addition to checking general signs of health, your doctor will carefully feel your neck to check for lumps, swelling, tenderness or other changes. Your doctor also can look at the larynx in two ways:

  • Indirect Laryngoscopy — Your doctor looks down your throat with a small, long-handled mirror, or through the nose with a flexible telescope, to check for abnormal areas and to see if the vocal cords move as they should.

    This test is performed in the doctor's office and is painless, but a local anesthetic may be sprayed in the throat or nose to avoid discomfort and prevent gagging.
  • Direct Laryngoscopy — Your doctor inserts a lighted tube, called a laryngoscope, through your mouth. As the tube goes down the throat, your doctor can look at areas that cannot be seen in the office. This procedure is done in the operating room with use of a general anesthetic to put you to "sleep."

    If abnormal areas are found, you will need a biopsy. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer is present. A pathologist examines the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. If cancer is found, the pathologist can determine its type. Almost all cancers of the larynx are squamous cell carcinomas. This cancer begins in the flat, scale-like cells that line parts of the larynx.

    Imaging such as computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are used to determine the extent of the tumor and the status of lymph nodes in the neck.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.