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Head Neck and Throat Cancer Screenings and Exams

For many diseases, routine screenings makes sense. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center offers a wide range of cancer screenings and exams.

Cancer screenings test people for early stages of cancer development, even though they have no symptoms.

Learn about when you should have a head and neck cancer screening, and the types of tests done.

When Should I Have a Head and Neck Cancer Screening?

Tobacco and alcohol use are two of the main causes of head and neck cancers. If you use tobacco or drink, you should discuss your head and neck health with your doctor.

Other screening criteria include:

  • Age – most head and neck cancers affect people 50 and older.
  • HPV – if you have HPV, you’ are at a higher risk for head and neck cancer.
  • Dental hygiene – the state of your mouth and teeth can require more frequent screenings.
  • Poor nutrition – a diet low in vitamins A and B can increase your risk for head and neck cancer.

Testing for Head and neck Cancer

Tests to detect and diagnose head and neck cancer may include:

  • Endoscopic biopsy — your doctor inserts an endoscope through the nose or mouth, or through a small incision. An endoscope is a flexible tube with a camera and a light at one end. He or she uses the endoscope's tiny surgical instruments to remove a tissue sample of the suspected cancerous site for lab analysis.
  • High-resolution MRI scan — MRI uses a strong magnet and radio waves to take pictures of structures inside the body.
  • Needle biopsy — your doctor passes a needle through the skin and into the suspected cancerous site. He or she removes a small piece of tissue and sends it to the lab. A pathologist looks at the tissue sample through a microscope for the presence of cancer cells.
  • Nutritional assessment — head and neck cancers can deplete the body of nutrients. Blood tests, records of tobacco and alcohol use, and weight and height can help your care team detect cancer.
  • PET-CT scan — this test combines PET and CT technologies to create a detailed image that reflects your body’s biochemical activity. It uses a low level of radiation and a small amount of radioactive dye.
  • Speech and swallowing exam — oncologists and pathologists can assess your head and neck health by testing your ability to speak and swallow. These tests can serve as a baseline to measure functional outcomes after cancer treatment.
  • Ultrasound — this test measures the echoes of high-frequency sound waves as they bounce off structures of the body to produce images.

Your head and neck surgeon may also perform a minimally invasive staging procedure of the lesion. This helps your care team accurately assess the extent of your disease.

Physical Exams and Check Ups

There are regular screenings that can help detect head and neck cancer.

These screenings include:

  • Dental exams
  • Yearly physicals

Contact Us

To make an appointment for head and neck cancer care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, call 412-647-2811.

Doctor looking at image on computer.

Treatments for Head and Neck Cancer

Our oncologists offer a full range of treatments, including traditional and minimally invasive surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Read more about treatment options.
Importance of Cancer Screenings

Q&A: What Is the Importance of Cancer Screenings?

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