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Further tests for nasopharyngeal cancer

Men and women discussing nasopharyngeal cancer

This page tells you about tests you may have if you are diagnosed with cancer of the nasopharynx. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Further tests for nasopharyngeal cancer

Once you have been diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, further tests will help your doctor to decide on the treatment you need. Your doctor needs to check whether the cancer has spread from where it started. The most common place for these cancers to spread is to the lymph nodes in the neck.

Scans

You may have a CT scan or MRI scan. These tests give doctors a detailed picture of your cancer and whether it has spread. Some people need a test called a bone scan to find out if the cancer has spread to your bones.

Chest X-ray

Your doctor may take a chest X-ray to rule out cancer spread to the lungs. This type of cancer spread is very unlikely unless you have an advanced stage cancer. But you will need a routine chest X-ray anyway if you are going to have surgery under a general anaesthetic.

After the tests

You will probably feel anxious when you are waiting for your test results. It may help to talk to your specialist nurse, or 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 nasopharyngeal cancer section.

 

 

Why you need more tests

Once you have been diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, your doctor needs to check whether the cancer has spread. These further tests will help your doctor to decide on the treatment you need. 

The lymph nodes are often the first place a cancer spreads to. Fluid from body tissues 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 this tissue fluid. The most common place for nasopharyngeal cancers to spread is to the lymph nodes in the neck.

 

CT scan

This is a computerised scan using X-rays. You may have a CT scan of your head and neck, and your chest or abdomen (tummy). The head and neck CT will show the size of the cancer and any enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. A chest and abdominal CT may show other signs of cancer spread. We have more information about having a CT scan and what lymph nodes are.

 

PET scan

PET scans can show up areas of active disease. They are sometimes used if the CT scan is not clear or to check to see if cancer has come back after treatment. We have more information about having a PET scan.

 

MRI scan

You may have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. This type of scan uses magnetic fields to build up a picture of the tissues, organs and structures inside your body. Soft tissue shows up more clearly on this scan than on a CT scan. We have more information about having an MRI scan.

 

Chest X-ray

Your doctor may take a chest X-ray to see if there is any cancer spread to the lungs. This type of cancer spread is very unlikely unless you have an advanced stage cancer. But you will need a routine chest X-ray anyway if you are going to have surgery under a general anaesthetic.

 

Bone scan

Some people need a test called a bone scan to find out if the cancer has spread to your bones. This test is more likely if you have stage 3 or 4 cancer. We have more information about bone scans.

 

After the tests

You will probably feel anxious when you are waiting for your test results. They may take a little time, although sometimes only a week or so. When your test results have come through, your specialist will ask you to go back to the hospital to discuss them. You and your specialist will then decide on a course of treatment.  

While you are waiting for results, it may help to talk to your specialist nurse, or 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. Look at our nasopharyngeal cancer organisations page 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, you could use our online forum, CancerChat.

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Updated: 20 August 2014