To find the cause of any of these laryngeal cancer symptoms, the doctor asks about the patient's medical history and does a complete physical exam. In addition to checking general signs of health, the doctor carefully feels the neck to check for lumps, swelling, tenderness, or other changes. If you have symptoms of cancer of the larynx, the doctor may do some or all of the following exams:
Physical exam - The doctor will feel your neck and check your thyroid, larynx, and lymph nodes for abnormal lumps or swelling. To see your throat, the doctor may press down on your tongue.
Indirect laryngoscopy - The doctor looks down your throat using a small, long-handled mirror to check for abnormal areas and to see if your vocal cords move as they should. This test does not hurt. The doctor may spray a local anesthesia in your throat to keep you from gagging. This exam is done in the doctor's office.
Direct laryngoscopy - The doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube called a laryngoscope through your nose or mouth. As the tube goes down your throat, the doctor can look at areas that cannot be seen with a mirror. A local anesthetic eases discomfort and prevents gagging. You may also receive a mild sedative to help you relax. Sometimes the doctor uses general anesthesia to put a person to sleep. This exam may be done in a doctor's office, an outpatient clinic, or a hospital.
CT scan - An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of the neck area. You may receive an injection of a special dye so your larynx shows up clearly in the pictures. From the CT scan, the doctor may see tumors in your larynx or elsewhere in your neck.
Biopsy - If an exam shows an abnormal area, the doctor may remove a small sample of tissue. Removing tissue to look for cancer cells is called a biopsy. For a biopsy, you receive local or general anesthesia, and the doctor removes tissue samples through a laryngoscope. A pathologist then looks at the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if a tumor is cancerous.
Laryngeal Cancer Staging
To plan the best treatment, your doctor needs to know the stage, or extent, of your disease. Laryngeal cancer staging is a careful attempt to learn whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. The doctor may use x-rays, CT scans, or magnetic resonance imaging to find out whether the laryngeal cancer has spread to lymph nodes, other areas in your neck, or distant sites.