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Throat Cancer
Diagnosis

In making a diagnosis of throat cancer, your doctor will start by recording your medical history, asking about any symptoms you may be experiencing and conducting a thorough physical examination. Your doctor may also may recommend one or more of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Endoscopy — This test is performed in the operating room with general anesthesia to determine the extent of the tumor. During the procedure, the upper portion of the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory tract are visualized with endoscopes, which are long, thin and flexible tubes equipped with a tiny video camera and light on the end. The endoscope is used to look at areas in the throat and respiratory tract that cannot be seen during a physical exam. Other areas examined include the esophagus, trachea and bronchi of the lungs.

    The endoscope has a channel that allows instruments to be passed through in order to take tissue samples. By adjusting the various controls on the endoscope, the doctor can safely maneuver the instrument to carefully examine the inside lining of the upper portion of the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory tract. The high-quality picture from the endoscope is shown on a TV monitor. In many cases, endoscopy is a more precise examination than X-ray studies.
  • Imaging Tests — Your doctor may also recommend imaging tests, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which provide additional information regarding the stage of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread to surrounding lymph nodes in the neck or elsewhere in the body.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.