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Throat cancer

Diagnosis of throat cancer

Depending on the symptoms you’ve experienced, and the stage of the cancer, throat cancer can be identified and diagnosed in several ways.

Typically, a head and neck specialist will identify any suspected cancerous growths based on the symptoms you report. He or she will also perform a physical exam to look for any abnormalities in your neck and mouth.

If your doctor does notice that throat cancer may be present, the next step is often to take a biopsy, which is a small tissue sample. This sample will then be evaluated under a microscope to determine whether you have cancer and, if so, the type.

Another common diagnostic test uses a lighted tube with a camera on the end (called a scope) inserted into the throat or larynx (“voice box”) to get a better look at the tissue. This is also called an endoscopy (in the throat) or laryngoscopy (in the larynx).

Imaging scans such as MRIs, x-rays, and CT can provide your doctor with an accurate picture of the inside of your neck and throat as well. You may also receive testing for HPV.

After cancer has been identified, the next step is to determine the stage. Cancers are typically assigned Roman numeral stages from I to IV, depending on if and how far the cells have spread.


The stage of throat cancer determines your treatment options. Surgery is the primary treatment for all types and stages of throat cancer, and can include removal of lymph nodes from your neck or part of your throat or larynx. Early-stage cancers can also sometimes be treated during an endoscopy, where cancerous cells are removed by scraping or vaporizing the surface of your throat or vocal chords.

For all stages of cancer, radiation, with or without chemotherapy, is a common additional option.

Depending on the type of throat cancer, new techniques can improve the tumor’s response to radiation. Some types of throat cancer respond to targeted therapies for specific molecular markers only found on cancer cells.

Dignity Health provides holistic and expert care for a variety of head and neck cancers, including throat cancer. To learn more about throat cancer or Find a Doctor, visit Dignity Health to discuss your prevention and treatment options. We will work together to assess your case.


Early throat cancers are typically very treatable, with most people going into complete remission (not having any new cancer cells) after treatment.

After completing treatment for throat cancer, you may need to follow some specific steps to make sure that your cancer does not return. The longer you stay in remission, the less likely that it will return.

Depending on the location of your cancer and its stage, your doctor may recommend that you have frequent screenings at first, then slowly decrease testing over time.

Immediately after treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, you may experience side effects such as sore throat, loss of appetite, or dry mouth. Your doctor can help you manage these symptoms through medication, diet, and other strategies.

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