Head and Neck Cancer Diagnosis

Diagnosis is the first step to an effective treatment plan. At Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute, we get you a precise diagnosis as quickly as possible. The more precise the diagnosis, the better we can tailor a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. We use the latest diagnostic technology to get a detailed and exact diagnosis.

Expert head and neck cancer diagnosis at AHN

Our head and neck cancer experts know you don’t want to wait for answers. We work to complete your testing quickly. At the Cancer Institute, you can expect:

  • Precise diagnosis: We use the latest diagnostic technology to identify the exact location of the cancer, how severe it is, and if it has spread to other organs. This information helps us plan an effective treatment for you.
  • Short wait time: We take steps to get you answers as quickly as possible. Many times, you can complete all of your testing in one day. You meet with your cancer care team within three days of receiving a diagnosis.
  • High level of expertise: The symptoms of head and neck cancer can mimic symptoms of other, less serious conditions. Our expert head and neck cancer team has the experience and skill to rule out other conditions and confirm a diagnosis.
  • Patient-centric care: Our Navigation Team helps coordinate appointments, answers questions about symptoms and treatment options, and provides logistical support when it comes to travel and planning your treatment. Throughout your care, our robust support services help you manage all aspects of the disease.
  • A convenient, after hours cancer clinic: AHN opened the first After Hours Oncology Clinic in western Pennsylvania for patients with cancer. If you are experiencing side effects from treatment, call your physician’s office first, then visit our after hours clinic, conveniently located at West Penn Hospital. We treat you quickly without exposing your compromised immune system to the germs you may encounter at a traditional emergency room. Plus, our clinic is more affordable than a visit to the ER. And since our oncology specialists have access to your records, they may even be able to advise you over the phone and save you from making a trip.

Diagnostic procedures for head and neck cancer

To begin the diagnosis, we will ask you about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. We may perform other tests to confirm the diagnosis and determine if the cancer has spread. Imaging scans help physicians see cancers that are invisible to the naked eye or are hidden under tissue.

Diagnostic procedures include:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This test uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology. A CT produces horizontal and vertical cross-sectional images of your body, including bones, muscles, fat, and organs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This imaging technique uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of your organs.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: We inject a safe amount of radioactive-tagged glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream. Then, a scanner takes images of your body. The scanning machine detects the tumors because they absorb the glucose more than normal tissues do.
  • Ultrasonography: This diagnostic imaging technique uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of internal organs.
  • Endoscopy: We use a small, thin scope called an endoscope to examine your oropharynx, larynx (voice box), and upper airway.
  • Biopsy: For this minor surgical procedure, we take a small portion of the suspicious tissue for a pathologist to examine under a microscope. A biopsy can confirm a diagnosis. We give you anesthesia before the procedure so you are comfortable. For some biopsies, when the tumor is small and easy to access, you can even undergo the procedure in the office under local anesthesia.

Head and neck cancer treatment

If a biopsy and one or more imaging studies indicate the presence of cancer, physicians will determine its stage. Staging determines the extent of the disease and if it has spread to other areas of your body. Staging is important for determining your personalized treatment plan. Find out more about our approach to treating head and neck cancer.

Contact us

Call the AHN Cancer Help Line anytime at (412) NURSE-4-U (412) 687-7348 to schedule a cancer-related appointment or to just talk with our nurses about diagnoses, treatments, and side effects.

Monthly free cancer screenings

Early cancer detection saves lives. See AHN free cancer screening dates, locations and eligibility requirements for each screen offered.  Then, call to register for your free cancer screenings.