Head and Neck Cancer
Head and Neck Cancer Diagnosis
A thorough, accurate diagnosis of head and neck cancer is the first step in developing a personalized treatment plan.
At UT Southwestern Medical Center, our head and neck cancer experts bring together years of experience to give patients the most exact diagnosis possible and determine whether the cancer has spread.
We use state-of-the-art imaging that’s reviewed by radiologists with special expertise in head and neck cancer. Our advanced equipment provides more details about each patient’s condition, which helps us create a better treatment plan.
Evaluation and Imaging
To diagnose head and neck cancer, we first ask for a patient’s medical history and then perform a physical examination and discuss symptoms.
Next, we usually perform imaging tests. We might ask a patient to repeat a test already completed elsewhere to lead us to a more precise diagnosis and better understanding of the situation.
Our advanced imaging techniques include:
- Computed tomography (CT scan)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nuclear imaging/positron emission tomography (PET scan)
We might also examine less accessible areas of the head and neck using an endoscope, which is a thin, lighted tube that goes through the nose and into the throat.
In addition, we often take biopsies so we can study the affected tissue under a microscope.
Head and Neck Cancer Staging
Once we have a head and neck cancer diagnosis, we determine the stage (extent) of the cancer. The stage tells us how advanced the cancer is, which is critical in helping us determine the best course of treatment.
The Tumor, Node, Metastasis (TNM) staging system is most widely used for head and neck cancers. Using this system, we will assign a T, N, and M value to the tumor.
- T refers to the size of the tumor.
- N describes any involvement of the lymph nodes of the head and neck.
- M indicates if the cancer has metastasized or spread to other areas of the body.
Equipped with this information, patients have the most accurate details about their cancer and can move quickly toward treatment decisions with their team of doctors.