Head & Neck Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing Head & Neck Cancer

Mercy cancer specialists are experts at diagnosing head and neck cancers. If you have signs or symptoms of head and neck cancer, your doctor will take a complete medical history and family history. Your oncology team will use also use a range of tests & tools designed for diagnosing head & neck cancer. The types of procedures that may be used to diagnose head and neck cancer include the following.    

  • Indirect pharyngoscopy and laryngoscopy - These are tests to examine the back of your throat using small mirrors on long, thin handles.
  • Endoscopy – An endoscopic procedure uses a scope (thin tube) with a light and lens to examine the head and neck from the inside
  • Panendoscopy – In this procedure, multiple types of scopes are used to examine the oral cavity, oropharynx, larynx (voice box), esophagus, trachea (windpipe) and bronchi (breathing passages in the lungs).
  • Biopsy – During a biopsy, your doctor removes tissue for a pathologist to determine whether head and neck cancers are present. Types of biopsies include incisional (surgery to collect a small tissue sample) and fine-needle aspiration (using a narrow-gauge needle to collect a tissue sample).
  • Diagnostic Imaging - Your doctor may use various diagnostic imaging tests to diagnose head and neck cancers. These tests include CT scans, MRIs and PET scans.

Head & Neck Cancer Treatment Options

Many head and neck cancers can be treated, especially when found early. Treatment options depend on several factors, including the type and stage of head and neck cancer, possible side effects, overall health and patient preferences. Treatment options for and neck cancers generally include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.


Several types of cancer surgery are used to treat head and neck cancer, including:

  • Excision - removing tumors and surrounding tissues, possibly using minimally invasive techniques like robotic-assisted surgery or laser
  • Lymph node or neck dissection - removing lymph nodes or neck tissues to check for and remove cancer
  • Reconstructive surgery - for widespread cancer with extensive tissue removal

Radiation Therapy

Depending on the type and stage of head and neck cancer, radiation therapy can be used alone or given after surgery, with or without chemotherapy.

Systemic Therapy

Systemic therapies are medicines that travel throughout the body to treat cancer. Types of systemic therapies used to treat head and neck cancers include chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.


Chemotherapy is a medication that destroys cancer cells to keep them from growing or multiplying. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery and radiation therapy.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy identifies and attacks specific molecules (molecular targets) on cancer cells that help them grow and spread.


Immunotherapy helps the immune system attack cancer cells by boosting immunity or changing how it functions. FDA-approved drugs are available that work with your immune system to fight head and neck cancers.

Head & Neck Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Some treatments for head and neck cancers can affect appearance, speech, swallowing ability, taste or smell. Following cancer treatment, you may need physical, occupational or speech therapy. Mercy offers a wide range of oncology therapy services and support groups to help you strengthen skills such as speaking clearly or swallowing.

Rest assured Mercy will be with you every step of the way on your road to recovery. We’ll provide the medical care and emotional support you need to conquer your fears — and your cancer.