Diagnosing a Mouth or Throat Tumor

To learn more about your tumor and your health, your doctor will evaluate you. Your evaluation includes a history, a physical exam, and some tests. Results of your evaluation help your healthcare team plan the best treatment for you.

Your Health History

Your doctor will take your health history and ask about your health problems, your symptoms, and any treatment you’ve already had. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist for more evaluation and treatment.

Your Physical Exam

The physical exam is done in the doctor’s office. During the exam, the doctor will look inside your nose and mouth with a light. He or she will also feel your neck and possibly your mouth. Your exam may also include indirect laryngoscopy, where a hand-held mirror is used to view the throat. You may also have an endoscopy, where a flexible tube (endoscope) is put into your mouth or nose and sometimes down into your throat. You may have local anesthesia (medication to keep you comfortable) during these exams.

Imaging Tests

You may have one or more imaging tests to give your doctor more information about the tumor. You’ll be told how to prepare for these tests. Some common imaging tests are:

  • An x-ray, a picture of tissues inside the body using high-energy beams

  • A CT (computed tomography) scan, a computer-enhanced x-ray

  • An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), a test using strong magnets and computers to form images

Direct Laryngoscopy

For a closer look at your throat, larynx, and other nearby tissues, direct laryngoscopy may be used. During the procedure, a lighted tube called a laryngoscope is placed into your throat. Direct laryngoscopy may be done in the hospital or in the doctor’s office. If it is done in the hospital, you may receive general anesthesia (medication to help you relax and sleep).


If you have a biopsy, a small sample of your tumor will be removed and studied. This helps show whether or not the tumor is cancerous. The tumor sample may be removed in the doctor’s office or in the hospital. The sample is then studied in a lab. Sometimes a biopsy is done during direct laryngoscopy.

Fine-Needle Aspiration

During fine-needle aspiration (FNA), a very thin needle is inserted into the tumor to remove a tissue sample. This biopsy procedure may be done in the doctor’s office.

Deciding on Treatment

Treatment depends on the tumor’s size, type, and location, and if it is cancerous. Treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • >Surgery
  • >Radiation therapy
  • >Chemotherapy