Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Tests to diagnose nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Tests and procedures used to diagnose nasopharyngeal carcinoma include:

  • Physical exam. Diagnosing nasopharyngeal carcinoma usually begins with a general examination. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms. He or she may press on your neck to feel for swelling in your lymph nodes.
  • Exam using a camera to see inside your nasopharynx. If nasopharyngeal carcinoma is suspected, your doctor may recommend a nasal endoscopy.

    This test uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end to see inside your nasopharynx and look for abnormalities. The camera may be inserted through your nose or through the opening in the back of your throat that leads up into your nasopharynx.

    Nasal endoscopy may require local anesthesia.

  • Test to remove a sample of suspicious cells. Your doctor may also use the endoscope or another instrument to take a small tissue sample (biopsy) to be tested for cancer.

Tests to determine the extent of the cancer

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor orders other tests to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer, such as imaging tests.

Imaging tests may include:

  • Computerized tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • X-ray

Once your doctor has determined the extent of your cancer, a Roman numeral that signifies its stage is assigned. The stages of nasopharyngeal cancer range from I to IV.

The stage is used along with several other factors to determine your treatment plan and your prognosis. A lower numeral means the cancer is small and confined to the nasopharynx. A higher numeral means cancer has spread beyond the nasopharynx to lymph nodes in the neck or to other areas of the body.

Aug. 27, 2015