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Tests for cancer of the larynx

Men and women discussing laryngeal cancer

This page tells you about the tests you may have for laryngeal cancer. You can go to information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Tests for cancer of the larynx

Usually you begin by seeing your family doctor. He or she will ask about your symptoms, examine your throat and ears and may also feel the lymph nodes in your neck and under your arms. Your doctor may refer you to hospital for tests, or may ask you to see a specialist. The specialist may want to do one of the following tests.

Flexible endoscopy of the larynx

The specialist looks at the back of your mouth and throat, including the larynx with a narrow, flexible telescope (a nasendoscope). This is passed up your nose so the specialist can look at the throat from above. If your specialist sees an abnormality, you may have an endoscopy at a later date. 

Endoscopy

You have this test under general anaesthetic. An endoscope is a series of connected telescopes that the specialist uses to look at different parts of the throat. The doctor may remove a small tissue sample (a biopsy) to look at under a microscrope.

Transnasal oesophagoscopy

A flexible tube (endoscope) is inserted through the nose and down your throat. It gives clear pictures of the inside of the throat and larynx.

Fine needle aspiration

If your doctor can feel a lump in your neck, you may have a fine needle aspiration. This means putting a thin needle into the lump and drawing out cells and fluid for testing.

 

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

 

Visiting your GP

Usually you begin by seeing your family doctor, who will examine you and ask about your general health. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. This will include what they are, when you get them and whether anything you do makes them better or worse.

Your doctor will examine your throat and ears. The doctor may also feel the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck and under your arms. After your examination, your doctor may refer you to hospital for tests and X-rays or may ask you to go and see a specialist. This is usually an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.

 

At the hospital

If you see an ENT specialist, they will ask you about your medical history and symptoms. The specialist will then examine you. You will have a chest X-ray and may have blood tests to check your general health. Then your tests will be arranged in the outpatient department. You may have

 

Flexible endoscopy of the larynx

This test means having the back of your mouth and throat (including the larynx) examined with a narrow, flexible telescope (a nasendoscope). This is passed up your nose so the specialist can look at all your upper air passages, including the larynx from above. This may be a bit uncomfortable, but you can have an anaesthetic spray to numb your throat first. This test is sometimes called a nasoendoscopy. 

If your specialist sees an abnormality in your throat with the nasendoscope they may ask you to go into hospital for the day to have an endoscopy. They will take a small sample of tissue (a biopsy) to examine under a microscope.

 

Endoscopy

You may have to go into hospital to have an endoscopy if the doctor can't get a good view of your larynx with the nasoendoscope. Or if they saw something abnormal. An endoscope is a series of connected telescopes that an ENT specialist uses to look at the back of your throat. There is a camera and light at one end, and an eyepiece at the other. Through the endoscope, your doctor can see the inside of your nose and throat very clearly and will take biopsies of any abnormal looking areas.

The test is done while you are asleep (under general anaesthetic). The doctor may remove a very small sample and examine it for cancer cells under a microscope. This is called a biopsy.

 

Transnasal oesophagoscopy

The doctor inserts a flexible tube (endoscope) through your nose and down your throat. This test is sometimes used instead of having an endoscope under general anaesthetic, for example if you aren't well enough to have a general anaesthetic. The tip of the tube has a digital video system and self contained light. This test is done under a local anaesthetic. It gives clear pictures of the inside of the throat and larynx. It takes about 30 minutes.

 

Fine needle aspiration

This is sometimes written as FNA. If your doctor can feel a lump in your neck, you may have a fine needle aspiration. This means putting a thin needle into the lump. The specialist will feel the lump first so that they know where to put the needle. Once the needle is in the lump, they draw out cells and fluid. They send the cells to the lab for examination to see if they are cancerous.

Your doctor may use a fine needle biopsy to see if the cancer has spread from your voice box to the lymph nodes in your neck. The doctor puts the needle into one of the large lymph nodes and draws out fluid and cells for testing.

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Updated: 22 August 2013