Drs. Belal & Alberico use the latest technologies to diagnose your cancer.

Diagnosis of Head & Neck Cancer

Why come here first for your diagnosis?

The first treatment you receive is your best shot at a cure, because cancer is more difficult to treat once it recurs (comes back after treatment). Choosing the best treatment depends on getting an accurate diagnosis the very first time.

We focus on cancer — nothing but cancer. Our pathologists are highly skilled at identifying even the rarest cancers. They’ll work with the other members of your medical team to develop a plan that’s right for you

Need a second opinion?

If you’re unsure of the diagnosis or treatment recommendation you’ve been given elsewhere, you can come to Roswell Park for a second opinion. Between 11-18% of second opinions we provide for patients from outside Roswell Park involve a change of diagnosis.

What tests are used to diagnose head & neck cancers?

Tumors of the head and neck can be difficult to detect in the early stages, and this can be even more complicated if they are in different locations. Combining information from several kinds of tests will help your doctors zero in on the tumors, determine whether they are malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous), and develop the treatment plan that will work best for you.

The process begins when a doctor reviews your medical history. Then you will undergo a full head and neck physical exam as the doctor checks your mouth, nose, neck, larynx (voice box), thyroid and face for any unusual lumps or masses.

Additional tests may include:


  • Tissue biopsy: If an exam shows an abnormal area, your doctor may remove a small sample of tissue. A pathologist will examine the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if a tumor is cancerous.
  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA): This is a special type of biopsy performed on neck masses or lumps. A needle is passed through the skin into the lump to get a sample of the tumor. A pathologist then examines the tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Diagnostic radiology 

Your doctor may decide to order a CT scan, MRI or PET scan. A radiologist will conduct these diagnostic imaging tests to help locate and stage the tumor. Depending on your specific case, additional imaging tests may be necessary, such as chest X-rays, dental X-rays, panorex (X-ray of the entire jaw) or barium swallow (to evaluate the esophagus, or food pipe).

How are Head & Neck Cancers Treated?