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Oropharyngeal Cancer: Diagnosis and Staging

Signs and Symptoms
Oropharyngeal cancer may cause some of the following symptoms. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. But, a doctor should be consulted if any of the following occur and won't go away.

  • Sore throat that won't go away
  • Dull pain behind the breastbone
  • Cough
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Ear pain
  • Lump in the mouth, throat, or neck
  • Change in voice
     

Diagnosis
Some of the following imaging techniques and diagnostic tests may be used to diagnose and stage oropharyngeal cancer.

Computed tomography (CT)
A CT scan uses x-rays to take an internal picture. Instead of taking just one picture, as does a normal chest x-ray, a CT scanner takes many pictures as it rotates. A computer then combines all the pictures taken and creates images that are like "slices" of your body. The machine will create multiple slices, giving doctors a much more powerful image than a single chest x-ray. CT images can give doctors precise information about tumors including shape, size, and location.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI uses radio waves and a large magnet to create an internal image. The process by which an image is created is complicated. This exam is used to find lung cancer that has spread to the brain or spinal cord.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
Positron emission tomography uses an injection of a specially labeled substance that is absorbed in large amounts by cancer cells. This substance is then detected by a special camera in the PET scanner. The image produces indicates areas with large amounts of the substance. Doctors can use the image to find lung cancer that has spread to other areas.

Biopsy
A biopsy is the collection of cells that can then be viewed by a pathologist and is the most conclusive way to diagnose many cancers. For renal cell cancer, a thin needle is inserted into the tumor and a sample of tissue is withdrawn.

Endoscopy
Endoscopy is a procedure used to look at organs and tissues inside the body. A thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a camera are inserted through the nose or mouth. The physician can examine the throat and remove samples or tissue or lymph nodes if necessary.