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Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

With any cancer, including head and neck cancer, early detection is the key to successful treatment. The University of Kansas Cancer Center provides leading-edge cancer diagnostic services for head, neck, throat and oral cancers.

How is head and neck cancer diagnosed?

There are several screening and diagnostic tests your doctor may perform to determine the presence of head or neck cancer.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy

The tissue-sampling procedure determines if the first line of lymph nodes is free of cancer. Research demonstrates that if the sentinel lymph node is free of cancer, the rest of the lymph nodes in the neck will also be free of cancer and will not need to be removed.

Thyroid/parathyroid fine needle aspiration biopsies

A thyroid fine needle aspiration biopsy is a procedure that removes a small sample of tissue from your thyroid gland. Cells are removed through a small, hollow needle. The sample is sent to the lab for analysis. Same-day results are presented to the Kansas City metro region’s only thyroid/parathyroid tumor board for creating the best treatment options. This saves you multiple office visits and days of waiting.

Barium swallow

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


The surgical removal of cells or tissues so a pathologist can view them 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.)


This procedure looks at organs and tissues in your body. Your doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube through a small incision or opening in the body, such as the mouth. The doctor also may take tissue samples and lymph nodes.

Exfoliative cytology

Your 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

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


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

Magnetic resonance imaging

MRI 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. (Sometimes used with CT.)


Your doctor inserts a nasoscope into the nose to look for abnormal areas. This thin tube has a light and a lens for viewing, and may also have a tool to remove tissue samples.

Positron emission tomography 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 using 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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Your journey to health starts here. Call 913-588-1227 or request an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

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