- What is head and neck cancer?  
- How does cancer arise?
- What causes head and neck cancer?  
- Can cancer of the head and neck be cured?  
- Symptoms of head and neck cancer  
- Referral to a specialist
- Diagnosis of head and neck cancer  
- Stage and grade of cancer  
- Treatment for head and neck cancer  
- Follow-up after treatment  
- Clinical trials

Further Tests

If the biopsy shows that cancer cells are present, further tests are used to find out more about the cancer and to decide on treatment. It may be several days before the results are available and you will probably be very anxious during this time. Some of the sites listed on the Links page contain helpful information about coping with this sort of stress, or you can ask your nurse or doctor for some help. The tests may include some of the following:

Blood test

Blood samples may be taken to check your general health.


X-rays may be taken of your face or neck to see whether bones, including your jaw, or your teeth have been affected. A chest X-ray will find out whether the cancer has spread to the lungs (very rare).

CT (CAT) scan

A CT or CAT scan uses special X-rays to construct a 3-dimensional picture of the inside of your body. It takes between 10 and 30 minutes and is painless.

You may be given a drink or injection, which may make you feel hot all over. It is important to tell the person doing the scan if you are allergic to iodine or have asthma before having the injection or drink. You must not eat or drink for at least 4 hours before the scan, but you can usually go home immediately afterwards.

MRI or NMR scan

MRI or NMR imaging uses magnetic fields to construct a 3-dimensional picture of the inside of your body. During the scan, you have to lie very still inside a metal cylinder for about 30 minutes. This can be unpleasant if you do not like enclosed spaces. It often helps to take a friend into the room for company. Earplugs or headphones are worn because the scan is noisy. You may be asked to take a tape or CD so that you can hear your favourite music while you are being scanned.

Before entering the room, remove any metal jewellery or belongings. People who have metal objects in their bodies (e.g. cardiac monitors, pacemakers, surgical clips, or hip replacements) cannot have these scans because of the magnetic fields. You will be asked about metal objects before the scan, so remember to tell the nurse or technician if you think you may have metal in your body (including your eyes).

Bone scan

This is used to detect cancer cells in bones. A very small amount of a mildly radioactive liquid is injected into a vein. After 2–3 hours, a machine takes a scan of the whole body. Any bone containing cancer cells shows up as bright areas, known as ‘hot spots’. The level of radioactivity used is very low and not harmful. It usually disappears from the body within a few hours.

Other tests

Other tests may include a barium swallow, an ultrasound scan or a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.