Head & Neck Cancer Diagnosis

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Head & Neck Cancer Diagnosis

With any cancer, early detection is the key to successful treatment. The Via Christi Cancer Center provides state-of-the-art cancer diagnostic services. Here are some of the ways your doctor may diagnose head or neck cancer.

Barium Swallow

A series of X-rays of your esophagus and stomach. You drink a liquid that contains barium. The liquid coats the esophagus and stomach. X-rays show the location of the barium. This also is called an upper GI series.


The surgical removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

CT Scan

A CT or CAT Scan uses X-rays to make a detailed picture of the structures inside your body. You lie on a table while the scanner sends a series of X-ray pulses through your body. An iodine dye (contrast material) is often injected to make structures and organs easier to see on the CT pictures. (Sometimes used with MRI.)


A procedure to look at organs and tissues in your body. The doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube through a cut in the skin or opening in the body, such as the mouth. The doctor also may take tissue samples and lymph nodes.

Exfoliative Cytology

The doctor uses a piece of cotton, a brush or a small wooden stick to gently scrape cells from your lips, tongue, mouth or throat. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

Endoscopic Ultrasound Scan (EUS)

We are one of the few providers in the region offering endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). By combining the technologies of endoscopy and ultrasound, EUS greatly improves the ability to diagnose some head and neck cancers.

Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) Biopsy

The doctor removes tissue or fluid using a thin needle. A pathologist views the tissue or fluid under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Our specialists are the only ones in the Kansas City area to offer on-demand imaging-guided needle biopsies with same-day results. This saves you multiple office visits and days of waiting.


The doctor examines your larynx or voice box with a mirror or with a thin, lighted tube called a laryngoscope.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves and a computer to make detailed pictures of areas in your body. This procedure also is called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI). (Sometimes used with CT.)


A procedure to look inside your nose for abnormal areas. The doctor inserts a nasoscope into the nose. A nasoscope is a thin tube with a light and a lens for viewing. It also may have a tool to remove tissue samples.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

The PET scan uses a special camera to see organs in the body. The camera records a tracer (radioactive sugar) that is put into a vein. Cancer cells use more sugar than normal cells, so the tracer shows up in the cancer cells.

Physical Exam

The doctor feels for swollen lymph nodes in your neck. The doctor also may look down your throat with a small, long-handled mirror.


Ultrasound is another way of viewing the inside of your body. It uses sound waves to create an image.

The X-ray - also called radiography - uses forms of radiation to create a picture of the structures in your body.


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