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Head and neck cancer

Diagnosis of head and neck cancer

Your Dignity Health doctor may use any number of tools to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of head and neck cancer. Your doctor’s exact approach will depend on your symptoms, medical history, and the type or location of cancer suspected.

For example, some diagnostic tools for head and neck cancer include:

  • Physical exam (to look for any unusual lumps, bumps, sores, or other signs of cancer in the throat, mouth, neck, mucous membranes, skin, and skull)
  • Blood or urine tests (to check for cancer cells or an immune reaction)
  • Imaging tests like MRIs, x-rays, PET scans, ultrasounds, or CT scans (to look for tumors or other unusual growths that aren’t fully visible on the surface)
  • Endoscopy (to allow your doctor to visually examine the inside of your mouth, nose, and esophagus with a scope inserted in the mouth)
  • Biopsy (to check a small tissue sample from the area of possible cancer under a microscope)

These tests are also often used to rule out cancer and see whether your symptoms are the result of another condition.


Determining the right combination of therapies to create the most effective treatment plan for you is critical. Treatment options for head and neck cancer depend on the specific type of cancer cell growth, the cancer’s location, and the cancer’s stage (how far it has spread throughout the body).

Common treatment options for cancer include:

  • Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing
  • Radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells
  • Surgery to remove the tumor
  • Targeted therapy to target specific markers on cancer cells

Research on curing cancer is continuously underway and is improving significantly over time. In some cases, you also may be eligible to join clinical trials. Your doctor will discuss your treatment options and the best approach for you.

Dignity Health provides personalized treatment for head and neck cancer. You can trust our oncology experts to guide you to the best prevention methods and treatment for head and neck cancer.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.