Head and Neck Cancer Diagnosis and Treatments

How is Head & Neck Cancer Diagnosed?

Since early detection is the most effective key to getting proper head and neck cancer treatments, experts often advise visiting your doctor as soon as any of the symptoms appear.

First and foremost, the doctor would conduct a physical exam on the basis of your symptoms and risk factors to evaluate the condition. If the doctor finds anything amiss, they may go for further tests, such as an endoscopy, CT of the sinuses, dental core beam CT, chest imaging, etc.

There are multiple tests recommended for head and neck cancer diagnosis, but not all the tests are applicable to every patient. The doctor considers different factors when selecting a particular diagnostic test. These factors include the patient's age and complete health overview, signs and symptoms, the type of head and neck cancer suspected, and the result of any medical tests conducted earlier.

Top 11 Head And Neck Cancer Diagnosis Tests

Here are 11 head cancer diagnosis tests recommended for a conclusive diagnosis of head and neck cancer and treatment planning:

Physical Examination

Depending on the patient's symptoms, the doctor may examine the patient's throat, mouth, neck, ears, and eyes for any abnormalities. Doctors use a tongue depressor to get a clear view of the mouth's inside. They may also feel the insides of the mouth with a gloved finger.

Also, the doctor may try to feel for any lumps on the patient's gums, cheeks, neck, and lips. In areas where it may be difficult for the doctor to check physically, they may suggest an endoscopy or may also remove a tissue sample for biopsy.


During an endoscopy, the doctor uses a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera at the end. This tool is called an endoscope and is used for examining the insides of the nose and throat area. During this examination, the doctor is able to look for any abnormal changes, growths, blockages, or any other kind of issue for a detailed head and neck cancer diagnosis.

During the procedure, the patient is sedated, and the doctor gently inserts the tube into the patient's body. Also, the endoscopy examination gets different names as per the body part that is examined. For example, endoscopy treatment done to view the larynx is known as laryngoscopy; nasopharyngoscopy is done to view the nasopharynx; and pharyngoscopy is done to examine the pharynx.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests are considered one of the best diagnostic methods for detecting the spread and presence of cancerous cells. These head and neck cancer imaging tests help the doctors by generating detailed pictures of the affected area.

The different imaging tests conducted for head and neck cancer detection include X-rays of the head and neck, PET scans, CT scans, and MRIs, or a Panorex. The Panorex is an advanced X-ray that helps doctors obtain detailed images of the upper and lower parts of the jaw, including the sinuses.

Biomarker testing of the tumor

Biomarker testing is the process of seeking proteins, genes, and other tumor markers that provide detailed information about factors that are unique to head and neck cancer. Every carcinoma has a unique pattern of biomarkers, and biomarker testing of the tumor helps the doctor design a relevant treatment for every patient.

Panoramic radiograph

A panoramic radiograph is a two-dimensional dental X-ray of the upper and lower parts of the jawbone. The said X-ray is designed to capture the different parts of the mouth, such as teeth, the lower and upper parts of the jaw, and the surrounding tissues. The particular X-Ray is used mainly for detecting oral cancers.


An ultrasound makes use of sound waves to create a detailed image or picture of the human body's internal organs. The doctor may use the ultrasound to examine the salivary glands, lymph glands present in the neck, and thyroid.

Computed tomography (CT or CAT Scan)

Computed tomography, or CT or CAT scan, is an imaging test that makes use of X-Rays to get images, pictures, or scans of the insides of the body from different angles. The CT scans are used to detect any kind of abnormality or tumor in the head and neck area. These scans also help the doctor determine the tumor's size.

Bone Scan

Another diagnostic test conducted for head and neck carcinoma is a bone scan. This bone scan uses a radioactive tracer to look inside the bones. However, the amount of radiation used is too low to be harmful. In the image, the healthy bone appears to be light in color, while the cancerous parts stand out. This bone test is conducted to check whether the head and neck carcinoma has spread to the bones.

Positron emission tomography (PET) or PET-CT scan

PET, or positron emission tomography, is another imaging test that is often combined with CT scans to get a clear picture of the tissues and internal organs. The PET scan is conducted by injecting a small amount of radioactive sugar molecules into the patient's body.

These radioactive sugar molecules get absorbed in the cells that use maximum energy, and cancerous cells use energy actively.

Blood Tests

Blood tests are conducted by doctors to get an idea of the patient's complete health. A complete blood count helps doctors assess the patient's immunity and other health aspects before designing the treatment for head and neck cancer.


A biopsy is conducted by the doctor to make the cancer diagnosis on the basis of a needle aspiration of a particular tumor. A biopsy is a test that involves the removal of tissues from the suspected area and their examination under the microscope. Biopsies are also performed in multiple ways:

What are the Head and Neck cancer treatments?

Head cancer treatment involves options such as radiation therapy for destroying the cancerous cells, targeted therapy, chemotherapy using drugs, and surgery for removing the cancer cells. The treatment modality is selected depending on the size, location, and type of head and neck cancer.


The main aim of surgery is to remove the tumor completely while making efforts to preserve the functions of the affected area. During the surgery, the doctor removes the tumor and a small portion of the healthy tissues that surround it. These healthy tissues are then checked by the pathologist to ensure that the entire cancerous cell population is removed.

The different surgeries conducted for head and neck cancer treatments include robotic head and neck surgery, laser surgery, cordectomy, vocal cord stripping, Laryngectomy, myocutaneous flap procedure, pharyngectomy, lymphadenectomy, tracheotomy, and reconstructive microsurgery.

Radiation Therapy

A treatment method known as radiation therapy or radiotherapy involves directing high-grade energy beams of particles at the neck cancer. On reaching the tumor, the beams damage the DNA of the cancer cells, thereby damaging the cancerous cells in whole. There are different approaches to radiotherapy for head and neck cancer.

Head and neck cancer radiation therapy may be used as the main treatment course for pharyngeal and laryngeal cancers. In some cases, it may be used as an effective way to prevent the recurrence of head and neck cancer.

Different types of radiation therapy include Proton therapy, adaptive radiotherapy in head and neck cancer, intensity-modulated radiation therapy, image-guided intensity-modulated radiation therapy, chemoradiation, and brachytherapy.

The head and neck radiation recovery time is usually 4 weeks, when the patient starts feeling better. However, for some patients, the recovery time may be a little longer.

Staging of Head and Neck Cancer

The staging of head and neck cancer gives information about the extent of the cancer's spread and at what stage it is. This information is highly useful to doctors regarding how to treat neck cancer when it reaches a particular stage.

What are the Head and Neck Radiation Side Effects?

Though radiotherapy for head and neck cancer is an effective line of treatment, it has its share of side effects too. Some of the common head and neck radiotherapy side effects include:

  • Sore or dry mouth
  • Tooth decay
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Changes in voice
  • Hair loss
  • Swelling in the neck and face
  • Drastic changes in taste
  • Increased thirst
  • Speech problems

Why Choose HCG for Head and Neck Cancer Treatments?

HCG has a perfect team of doctors and professionals who are well versed in diagnosing and treating head and neck cancer. The team includes surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, palstic and reconstructive surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, and expert nurses. This ensures that your line of treatment is well designed and that the success rates are quite high.


Head and neck carcinoma is a collection of cancers that originate in the squamous cells lining the mouth, throat, and nose. The best course of treatment for cancer is its early detection. Thus, it is often recommended to visit your doctor as soon as any of the symptoms appear.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctors often recommend radiation therapy or surgery for stage 1 head and neck cancer, as the cancer is localized in this stage.

The first-line treatment for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy, alone or in combination.

The recurrence of head and neck cancer depends on the diagnosis. The majority of patients with an early diagnosis enjoy low chances of recurrence if they are able to make significant lifestyle changes. However, patients who are at an advanced stage of cancer have a high chance of recurrence. Recurrent head and neck cancers are often treated with chemotherapy, immunotherapy, alone or in combination.

Head and neck cancer can be successfully treated if it is diagnosed at an early stage, such as stage 1 or stage 2. However, as the disease advances, it is challenging to achieve positive clinical outcomes and better survival rates.

The success rate of head and neck cancer treatment is quite high if the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage.

The recovery period for head and neck cancer after treatment is about 2 to 6 weeks.

Stage 4 is an advanced stage of cancer, which means that the survival rate of the cancer is quite low.

The head and neck carcinoma takes about six months to three years to spread. Therefore, it is important for patients not to ignore any symptoms or delay treatment.

Different head and neck cancer treatments are associated with different side effects. Radiation therapy may lead to fatigue, weight loss, and pain while swallowing. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, may cause nausea, low blood counts, and changes in taste. A few side effects, like nausea, wear off as soon as the treatment ends. However, other side effects, like fatigue and discomfort with swallowing, take some time to improve.