Further tests for 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Diagnosing salivary gland cancer section.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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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