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Further tests for cancer of the larynx

Men and women discussing laryngeal cancer

This page tells you about further tests you may have for cancer of the voice box (larynx). You can use these links to go straight to sections about    

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Further tests for cancer of the larynx

If your tests show you have cancer of the larynx, further tests will help your doctor to decide on the treatment you need.

Physical examination

Your specialist may be able to tell how far your cancer has grown within the larynx by looking at your vocal cords with a nasendoscope. You will be asked to make certain sounds. If your vocal cords stay still, it suggests that cancer is either in your vocal cords or has affected the nerves that control them. Your doctor may describe your vocal cords as being fixed.

Scans

You may have an ultrasound scan, a CT scan, an MRI scan or a PET-CT scan. These can give detailed pictures of where your cancer is, and whether it has spread.

After the tests

When your results are ready, you will find out what treatment your doctors recommend. Specialist surgeons and cancer specialists will meet and discuss your case with you before deciding on the treatment.

The results may take a little time to come through, even if only a week or so. You are likely to feel anxious during this time. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you are feeling. Or you may want to contact a cancer support group to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Diagnosing laryngeal cancer section.

 

Why you need more tests

If your tests show you have cancer of the larynx, further tests will help your doctor to decide on the treatment you need. Your specialist will need to decide whether it may be better for you to have surgery or radiotherapy, for example. If you are to have surgery, the specialist will need to find out as much as possible about the size and position of the tumour. You may also have further tests to see if the cancer has spread. The most common sites for cancer of the larynx to spread are the lymph nodes in the neck.

The lymph nodes are often the first place a cancer spreads to. Tissue fluid circulates around the body organs, drains into lymph vessels and is carried to the lymph nodes. If any cancer cells have broken away, they will be carried to the lymph nodes in tissue fluid.

 

Physical examination

Your specialist may be able to tell how far your cancer has grown within the larynx by looking at your vocal cords with a nasendoscope (a narrow flexible telescope). You will be asked to make certain sounds. If your vocal cords move normally, it is not likely that the cancer has spread to deeper tissue. If your vocal cords stay still, it suggests that cancer is either in your vocal cords or has affected the nerves that control them. These nerves are called the recurrent laryngeal nerves. Your doctor may describe your vocal cords as being fixed. If they don't move at all, you may have loss of voice or noisy breathing.

 

CT scan

This is a computerised scan using X-rays. You may have a CT scan of your head and neck, your chest or abdomen. The head and neck CT can show the size of the cancer and any enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. A chest and abdominal CT can show whether the cancer has spread. There is more detailed information about having a CT scan

 

MRI scan

You may have an MRI scan. This uses magnetism to build up a picture. Soft tissue shows up more clearly on this scan than on a CT scan. It can be particularly useful for looking at lymph nodes in the neck. You cannot have an MRI scan if you have any metal inside your body – for example, some knee or hip replacements or a pacemaker. This is because MRI uses a strong magnet. The strong magnet may move some medical devices, or affect how they work. There is more detailed information about having an MRI scan

 

PET-CT scan

You may have this to see whether the cancer has spread to the areas around the voice box, to nearby lymph nodes, or to other areas of the body. A PET-CT scan takes CT pictures of the structures of your body. At the same time, a mildly radioactive drug shows up areas of your body where the cells are more active than normal. The scanner combines both of these types of information. This allows your doctor to see any changes in the activity of cells and know exactly where the changes are happening. There is more detailed information about having a PET-CT scan

 

Ultrasound scan

You may have an ultrasound scan to look at whether the cancer cells have spread into the lymph nodes close to the larynx. This scan uses sound waves to create pictures of your body. It is not painful and is harmless to you. There is more about having an ultrasound scan

We have a section where you can search for the different types of cancer tests

 

After the tests

Your specialist will ask you to go back to the hospital when your test results have come through. This may take a little time, even if only a week or so. You are likely to feel anxious during this time. It can take quite a few days for laboratory tests to be done. Waiting doesn't mean the results are bad – the tests take the same amount of time to carry out whatever the results.

When your results are ready, you may go to a clinic to get your results and find out what treatment your doctors recommend. Specialist surgeons and cancer specialists hold these clinics together. They will meet and discuss your case with you before deciding on the final course of treatment. 

While you are waiting for results, it may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel. Or you may want to contact a cancer support group to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience. Look on our page about laryngeal cancer organisations for an organisation that can give you information about support groups or counselling services near you.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use CancerChat, our online forum. 

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Updated: 28 May 2015