If you have symptoms that suggest laryngeal cancer, your doctor may do a physical exam. Your doctor looks at your throat and feels your neck for lumps, swelling, or other problems.
You may have one or more of the following tests:
- Indirect laryngoscopy: Your doctor uses a small mirror with a long handle to see your throat and larynx. Your doctor will check whether your vocal cords move normally when you make certain sounds. The test does not hurt. To prevent you from gagging, your doctor may spray local anesthesia on your throat. The test is usually done in your doctor’s office.
- Direct laryngoscopy: Your doctor uses a lighted tube (laryngoscope) to see your throat and larynx. The lighted tube can be flexible or rigid:
- Flexible: Your doctor puts a flexible tube through your nose into your throat. This test is usually done in your doctor’s office with local anesthesia.
- Rigid: Your doctor puts a rigid tube through your mouth into your throat. A tool on the rigid tube can be used to collect tissue samples. This test may be done in your doctor’s office, an outpatient clinic, or a hospital. Usually, general anesthesia is used.
- Biopsy: The removal of a small piece of tissue to look for cancer cells is called a biopsy. Usually, tissue is removed with a rigid laryngoscope under general anesthesia. A pathologist then looks at the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if the abnormal area is cancer.
If you need a biopsy, you may want to ask your doctor some of the following questions:
- Why do I need a biopsy?
- How much tissue do you expect to remove?
- How long will it take? Will I need general anesthesia?
- Are there any risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the biopsy? Will I lose my voice for a while?
- Will I be able to eat and drink normally after the biopsy?
- How long will it take for my throat to heal?
- How soon will I know the results?
- If I do have cancer, who will talk with me about treatment? When?