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Nasopharyngeal cancer tests

Men and women discussing nasopharyngeal cancer

This page tells you about tests to diagnose nasopharyngeal cancers. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Tests for nasopharyngeal cancer

You usually begin by seeing your GP. Your doctor will examine you and ask about your general health and about your symptoms. Your doctor may refer you to a hospital for tests and X-rays or directly to a specialist. If you see a specialist, they will examine you and arrange for you to have tests in the hospital outpatient department.

Nasendoscopy

A nasendoscopy lets your specialist look at all your upper air passages (the inner parts of your nose, throat and larynx – voice box). The specialist passes a narrow, flexible telescope (a nasendoscope) up your nose and down your throat to look for any abnormal areas.

Having a biopsy

The results from the tests along with your symptoms may suggest you have cancer. But to get a definite diagnosis your doctor will take a sample of tissue (a biopsy). They send this to the laboratory to be looked at under a microscope. 

Nasopharyngeal cancers are difficult to get to because they are deep inside the head. Because of this, you may need a panendoscopy. A panendoscope is a series of connected telescopes that a head and neck surgeon uses to look at your upper airways. The test is done under a general anaesthetic. The doctor can use the panendoscope to take a biopsy.

If your doctor can feel a lump in your neck, you may need to have a fine needle aspiration (FNA) to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. This means putting a thin needle into the lump and drawing out cells and fluid. These cells are examined in the laboratory to see if they are cancerous.
 

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

 

 

Seeing your GP

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

Your doctor will examine your throat, ears and mouth. They may also feel the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck. After examining you, your doctor may refer you to hospital for tests and X-rays or directly to a specialist. The specialist is usually a head and neck surgeon.

 

At the hospital

If you see a specialist, they will ask about your medical history and symptoms. The specialist will examine you. You may have blood tests and a chest X-ray to check your general health. Your specialist may arrange for you to have other tests. You may need to have a

 

Nasendoscopy

The nasendoscope allows the specialist to look at all your upper air passages (the inner parts of your nose, throat and larynx – voice box). The specialist passes a narrow, flexible or rigid telescope (a nasendoscope) up your nose and down your throat to look for any abnormal areas. As this test may be a little uncomfortable your doctor can use an anaesthetic spray to numb your throat first. If the anaesthetic spray is used you won't be able to eat or drink until the numb feeling wears off (about 30 minutes or so), so you may choose not to have this.

 

Biopsy

The results from the tests and your symptoms may suggest you have cancer. But to get a definite diagnosis your doctor will take a sample of tissue (a biopsy) and send it to the lab to be looked at under a microscope. As nasopharyngeal cancers can be difficult to get to because they are deep inside the head, you may need to have a panendoscopy to reach it.

 

Panendoscopy

Your doctor may ask you to come into hospital to have a panendoscopy

  • To get a more detailed look at the abnormal area 
  • To get a biopsy of the abnormal area.

A panendoscope is a series of connected telescopes. A head and neck specialist uses a panendoscope to look at your upper airways. There is a camera and light at one end, and an eyepiece at the other. The test is usually done under a general anaesthetic. Your specialist will put the panendoscope up your nose and down your throat. They will take biopsies of any abnormal looking areas. The pathologist will look at the tissue under the microscope to check for cancer cells.

 

Fine needle aspiration

If your doctor can feel a lump in your neck, you may need a fine needle aspiration (FNA). This is to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. Your doctor will use a thin needle to draw out cells and fluid out of the lump. Your doctor may use an ultrasound scan to help guide the needle into the neck lump. The sample of cells is sent to the lab to find out if they are cancerous.

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Updated: 20 August 2014