How Do I Know If I Have Head and Neck Cancer?
Often, there are no symptoms of head and neck cancer. However, common complaints include:
- lump or sore that does not heal
- sore throat that does not go away
- difficulty or pain with swallowing
- hoarseness or change in your voice
- blood in saliva or from the nose
- ear pain or loss of hearing
- lump in the neck
- nasal stuffiness that does not resolve
There are several tests physicians can use to further the diagnostic process and look for tumors. These include:
- Medical exams, to feel for lumps on the neck, mouth and throat.
- Endoscopy, a procedure in which the physician uses a thin, lighted tube (called an “endoscope”) that is passed through the nose to obtain a more comprehensive assessment of the head and neck area.
- X-ray, CT, MRI and PET scans, which are often needed to show the location and extent of the cancer.
To confirm a cancer diagnosis, a sample of the tumor (called a “biopsy”) is removed and analyzed in the medical lab. Lymph nodes are olive-shaped glands that carry cancer from one area of the body to another. If it is suspected that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, these may be biopsied as well.