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After a diagnosis of head and neck cancer, you will likely have other tests. These tests help your healthcare providers learn more about your cancer. They can help show if the cancer has grown into nearby areas or spread to other parts of the body. The test results help your healthcare providers decide the best ways to treat the cancer. If you have any questions about these or other tests, be sure to talk with your healthcare team.
Some of the tests used after diagnosis may have also been used to find and diagnose the cancer. The tests you may have can include:
Chest X-ray. This X-ray may be done to see if the cancer has spread to your lungs.
CT scan. In this test, an X-ray beam takes a series of pictures of the inside of your body from many angles. These images are then combined by a computer, giving a detailed 3-D picture of your body. CT scans can be used to determine the size of the tumor and find out if it has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
PET scan. This test measures the metabolic activity of your tissues. A mildly radioactive material is injected into your vein. Then a machine takes pictures of your entire body that show areas where the activity of the injected material is increased. These areas may be cancer. A PET scan is often combined with a CT scan (PET-CT scan) to provide more information.
MRI. This test uses magnets and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the inside of your body, much like a CT scan. But MRIs don’t use X-rays. This test may be used to look for cancer that's spread to the neck.
Ultrasound. This test may be used to look for swollen lymph nodes in your neck, which can be a sign of cancer spread. It can also look for cancer that may have spread to the liver.
Bone scan. For this test, a small amount of a mildly radioactive substance is injected into your veins. This radioactive material travels through your bloodstream and collects in areas of abnormal bone growth. A machine scans your body for the places where the substance has collected. These may be areas where the cancer has spread to the bones.
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about which tests you'll have. Make sure to get ready for the tests as instructed. Ask questions and talk about any concerns you have.
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