Diagnostic Endoscopy for Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck cancers often arise in areas which cannot be easily visualized or examined by touch. Evaluating these tumors requires clinicians to perform a flexible fiberoptic or rigid endoscopic exam. This consists of inserting a sterile endoscope through the nose or mouth to visualize the tumor. For patients with a new diagnosis, endoscopic visualization provides a critical component to fully staging the tumor. Patients with an established diagnosis of a head and neck cancer often undergo repeated endoscopic evaluation in the post-treatment period. Continued endoscopic surveillance is an essential component of cancer surveillance and is not replaced by radiographic imaging such as CT, MRI or PET-CT. In addition, endoscopy can provide valuable information to guide diagnosis and therapy of tumor- and treatment-related morbidity such as dysphagia and dysphonia.
Endoscopes are either equipped with a small eyepiece that the clinician looks through, or connected to digital cameras which allow the images to be displayed on a larger screen. Use of flexible or rigid endoscopes can be associated with mild discomfort which can be minimized by using topical anesthetics. All endoscopes undergo decontamination and sterilization after each procedure with methods compliant with institutional and federal standards. All patients will be informed at the time of their visit of the potential need for an endoscopic evaluation, and will be asked for their permission to do this.