How is oropharyngeal cancer diagnosed?

Christopher M. Garvey, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)

Oropharyngeal cancer is treated based on the stage of the tumor. Higher staged tumors are typically larger, have invaded into surrounding tissues and/or have metastasized (spread) to local lymph nodes in the neck or to distant organs such as lung, liver or bone.

Surgery is a treatment option for oropharyngeal cancers. Some patients require radiation therapy after their surgery and in some cases chemotherapy. The need for radiation and chemotherapy after surgery is based on the findings during surgery and final stage of the tumor.

Oropharyngeal cancers can also be treated initially with radiation therapy alone or with chemotherapy. The chemotherapy makes the radiation more effective in curing the cancer.

Treatment of oropharyngeal cancer should be made using a team approach and include a surgeon, radiation doctor and chemotherapy specialist.

When diagnosing oropharyngeal cancer, the doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical exam with attention to the head, neck, mouth, and throat. During the exam, the doctor may use a small mirror with a long handle to better see the inside of your throat. An endoscope, a long, thin, flexible tube with a light, is also useful for seeing the throat. Imaging studies such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) can be used to see structures inside your body. The doctor may also take a biopsy, which is a small sample of cells that can be examined under a microscope.

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