Diagnosis & staging
These are tests that may be used to diagnose this type of cancer.
- Physical examination of the nose, mouth, throat, neck, often using a light and mirror.
- In-depth examination by a head and neck specialist (an otolaryngologist) using an endoscope.
- Biopsy (removal of a small bit of tissue for microscopic examination by a pathologist)
- Imaging of the tumour or distant sites by one or more of the following methods:
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan)
- Bone scan
For more information on tests used to diagnose cancer, see our Recommended Websites, Diagnostic Tests section.
Types and Stages
- Nearly all pharyngeal cancers are carcinomas arising from cells that line the pharynx (squamous cells).
- A detailed and illustrated explanation of staging of pharyngeal tumours is available on the Cancer.net website.
Staging describes the extent of a cancer. The TNM classification system is used as the standard around the world. In general a lower number in each category means a better prognosis. The stage of the cancer is used to plan the treatment.
T describes the site and size of the main tumour (primary)
N describes involvement of lymph nodes
M relates to whether the cancer has spread (presence or absence of distant metastases)
The tumour is small and limited to one initial area.
The tumour is greater than 2 cm but less than 4 cm and may involve the soft tissue of the throat.
The tumour is greater than 4 cm and may have spread into nearby bone or sinuses.
The tumour has spread into nearby structures and extends into the soft tissues and / or bones of the neck, larynx, esophagus, jaw and skull base.