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Tests for nasal and sinus cancer

Men and women discussing nasal and sinus cancer

This page tells you about tests to diagnose nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Tests for nasal and sinus cancer

If you are worried about symptoms, you should begin by seeing your GP. After examining you and asking about your symptoms, your doctor may refer you to hospital for tests and X-rays, or refer you directly to a specialist. The specialist will arrange for you to have tests.

Nasoendoscopy and panendoscopy

A nasoendoscopy is a test where the specialist passes a narrow, flexible telescope (a nasoendoscope) up your nose to look inside your nasal cavity. If your specialist sees an abnormality, you will probably have to have a panendoscopy. This uses a series of connected telescopes to look at the inside of your nose and throat. It enables the doctor to take a tissue sample (biopsy). It is done under general anaesthetic.

Fine needle aspiration

If your doctor can feel a lump, you may have a fine needle aspiration (FNA). This means putting a thin needle into the lump. Sometimes the doctor may use an ultrasound scan to help guide the needle to the right place. The doctor draws out cells and fluid. This all goes off to the lab, where a pathologist examines it for cancerous cells.
 

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

 

 

Seeing your GP

If you are worried about symptoms, you should begin by seeing your GP. Your doctor will examine you, ask about your general health and about your symptoms, including when you get them and whether anything you do makes them better or worse.

Your doctor will examine your nose, throat, ears, or eyes depending on where the problem is. They may also feel the lymph nodes in your neck. After examining you, your doctor may refer you to hospital for tests and X-rays or refer you directly to a specialist. This is usually a head and neck surgeon.

 

At the hospital

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

 

Nasoendoscopy

A nasoendoscopy is a test where the specialist passes a narrow, flexible telescope (a nasoendoscope) up your nose to get a better look inside your nasal cavity.

This is usually a little uncomfortable. Your doctor may use an anaesthetic spray to numb the inside of your nose. But it means you can’t eat or drink until the anaesthetic spray wears off, so you may choose not to have this.

If your specialist sees an abnormality in your nose, you will probably have to go into hospital for the day to have a panendoscopy. The nasoendoscope is too fine to use to take samples of tissue (biopsies). But a panendoscope is thicker and your specialist can use it to take a biopsy of the abnormal area.

 

Having a biopsy

The only way to make a definite diagnosis of any nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer is to take a sample of tissue from the affected area (a biopsy) and look at it under a microscope for signs of cancer. If the lesion is easy to get at (in the front part of your nose, for example) your doctor will be able to remove a very small amount of tissue and send it to the lab. But if it is not easy to get at, your surgeon may need to do a fine needle aspiration or a panendoscopy to get a tissue sample.

 

Fine needle aspiration

If your doctor can feel a lump, you may have a fine needle aspiration (FNA). This means putting a thin needle into the lump. The specialist will first feel the lump, so that they know where to put the needle. Sometimes the doctor may use an ultrasound scan to help guide the needle to the right place. Once the needle is in the lump, the doctor draws out cells and fluid. This all goes off to the lab, where a pathologist examines it for cancerous cells.

A fine needle aspiration can also help to show whether the cancer has spread 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.

 

Panendoscopy

Your doctor may ask you to go into hospital to have a panendoscopy. This is usually because the doctor couldn't get a good view using the nasoendoscope, or they saw something abnormal. A panendoscope is a series of connected, rigid telescopes that the specialist uses to look at your upper airways.

There is a camera and light at one end, and an eyepiece at the other. Through the panendoscope, your doctor can see the inside of your nose and throat very clearly and will take biopsies of any suspicious looking areas.

The test is done while you are asleep (under general anaesthetic). Your doctor will put the panendoscope up your nose and down into your throat. They will look at the inside of your nose as well as your voice box (larynx), food pipe (oesophagus), windpipe (trachea) and breathing tubes (bronchi). The doctor may remove a very small sample of tissue (biopsy). They send this to the lab to be looked at under the microscope for cancer cells.

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Updated: 2 July 2014