To speak to a specialist cancer nurse,
freefone the National Cancer Helpline
1800 200 700
Mon—Thurs 9am—7pm Fri 9am—5pm
The symptoms of head and neck cancers depend on where the tumour is found. Some common symptoms include:
For more information, contact the National Cancer Helpline 1800 200 700 to speak to one of our specialist cancer nurses.
First, visit your family doctor (GP) or dentist if you are worried about any symptoms. They can examine you and do some blood tests. If your GP or dentist is still concerned about you, they can refer you to a hospital for more tests. You may be referred to a specialist doctor, such as a maxillofacial surgeon or an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist.
The specialist will discuss your symptoms and examine you again. He or she will inspect your mouth, throat, tongue, nose and neck using a small mirror and/or lights. Your neck, lips, gums and cheeks will also be checked for lumps.
The following tests can diagnose head and neck cancers.
An X-ray of the bones of your face and neck allows your doctor to check for cancer. An OPG (orthopantomogram) is a special X-ray of the jaw and teeth.
Nasendoscopy: This test uses a small, thin flexible tube with a light called a nasendoscope to look at your nose and throat. Your throat will be numbed first. Then a tube is passed into your nose while a small mirror is held at the back of your throat. This allows your doctor to have a close look at your throat. The test is little unpleasant but only lasts a few minutes.
A biopsy is a sample of the abnormal cells taken from the affected area. These are then examined under a microscope in the laboratory. Your doctor can do the biopsy during a nasendoscopy using a very small needle. The biopsy will tell your doctor if the sample contains cancer cells and if so what type. In some cases, patients may need a general anaesthetic during a biopsy.
This test uses a fine needle and syringe to get a sample of cells from a lump. It is then sent to the laboratory to see if any cancer cells are present. The test can be uncomfortable and the area may be bruised for short while afterwards.
The stage of a cancer describes its size and if it has spread to other parts of your body. By knowing the stage of the cancer, it helps your doctors to decide the best treatment for you. Head and neck cancers are very often divided into four stages:
Stage 1: This is a small tumour and found in one place only.
Stages 2/3: The disease has spread to other areas of your head and neck.
Stage 4: The disease has spread to other parts of your body further away. These are known as secondaries or metastases.
If the above tests show that you have cancer, you may need other tests. These tests will check if the cancer has spread.
Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm
National Cancer Helpline
Freefone 1 800 200 700
Talk to a specialist nurse
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