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Further tests for salivary gland cancer

Men and women discussing salivary gland cancer

This page tells you about further tests you may have if you have been diagnosed with salivary gland cancer. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what’s on this page

Further tests for salivary gland cancer

If your tests show you have salivary gland cancer, further tests will help your doctor to decide on the treatment you need. Your doctor also needs to check whether the cancer has spread from where it started.

Scans

You may have a CT Scan or a PET scan. These can give doctors a detailed picture of your cancer and whether it has spread.

Fine needle aspiration of your lymph node

You may also have a fine needle aspiration of your lymph nodes to find out if they contain any cancer cells. This means putting a thin needle into the lymph node and drawing some cells and fluid from the node. This then goes to the lab where the pathologist examines it to see if there are any cancer cells in the node.

Endoscopy

An endoscope is a thin flexible tube with a light and lens on one the end of it and an eyepiece on the other. It allows your doctor to look at your mouth, throat and larynx.

Dental check

A dental check picks up and corrects any issues with your teeth, such as fillings that need doing, or loose teeth. These could cause problems during treatment if not treated beforehand. This check should be done by a specialist in dental health often called a Restorative Dental Consultant. 

 

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

 

 

Why you need further tests

Further tests will help your doctor to decide on the treatment you need. If your tests show you have a salivary gland cancer, your doctor needs to check whether the cancer has spread from where it started. This type of cancer can spread to lymph glands (also called lymph nodes) in the neck. Tissue fluid circulates around the body organs, drains into lymph vessels and is carried to the lymph nodes. If any cancer cells break away from the main tumour, they can be carried to the lymph nodes in this fluid.

 

CT scan

This is a computerised scan using X-rays. You may have a CT scan of your head and neck and your chest. The head and neck CT scan shows the size of the cancer and any enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. A CT scan of your chest may show other signs of cancer spread.

There is detailed information about having a CT scan in the section about cancer tests.

 

PET scan

Your doctor might suggest a PET scan to try to tell fibrous scar tissue from active cancer. Scar tissue cells are not very active. But cancer cells are actively growing a lot of the time. PET scans can show up cell activity and so can be a useful way of picking out areas containing cancer cells. However this type of scan does not always pick up salivary gland cancer cells. 

There is detailed information about having a PET scan in the section about cancer tests.

 

Fine needle aspiration of your lymph nodes

You may have a fine needle aspiration to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in your neck. This means putting a thin needle into the lymph node and drawing some cells and fluid from the node. This then goes to the lab where the pathologist examines it to see if there are any cancer cells in the node. This test is called fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC).

 

Endoscopy

An endoscope is a thin flexible tube with a light and lens on one the end of it and an eyepiece on the other. This allows your doctor to look at your mouth, throat and larynx. There is more information on our page about having an endoscopy.

 

Dental examination

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) produce guidelines for improving outcomes in cancer. Their guidelines for head and neck cancer recommend that everyone should see a specialist dentist (restorative dentistry consultant) before they start treatment. This is to pick up and correct any issues with your teeth, such as fillings that need doing, or loose teeth. These can cause a problem when you start cancer treatment. The restorative dentistry consultant may need to remove any problem teeth to prevent you developing any complications during treatment. 

 

After the tests

Your specialist will ask you to come back to the hospital when your test results have come through. This is bound to take a little time, even if only a week or so.

You are likely to feel anxious during this time. While you are waiting for the results, 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.

Ask your cancer nurse, or look at our list of general cancer organisations for organisations that can help put you in touch with a support group.

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Updated: 24 June 2014