Biopsy - Neck

This procedure involves removing a suspicious sample of head or neck tissue to check for the presence of abnormal, or cancerous, cells.

This procedure involves removing a suspicious sample of head or neck tissue to check for the presence of abnormal, or cancerous, cells.

A biopsy of the mouth or throat involves the removal of a suspicious sample of head or neck tissue to check for the presence of abnormal, or cancerous, cells. Your healthcare provider may recommend a biopsy of your mouth or throat if you have abnormal findings on an exam or symptoms of head or neck cancer.

  • Depending on your specific circumstances, this type of biopsy may be done in an office or hospital.
  • If a small piece of abnormal tissue is removed, only a local anesthetic is usually needed.
  • General anesthesia is usually needed if the tissue being removed is large. This may be the first step in a total tumor removal.

Head or neck cancers are a group of cancers that typically start in the moist membranes of the head and neck. This includes the mouth, nose, throat and salivary glands (uncommon). These cancers can develop at any age. However, they are more common in men over 50 years of age. The risk factors for cancers of the head and neck include:

  • Tobacco and alcohol use (cause about 75% of cancers of the head or neck)
  • History of certain viruses, such as Human Papillomavirus (HPV) or Epstein-Barr (EB) infection
  • Prior radiation therapy to the head or neck area
  • Use of betel quid (a type of chewing tobacco) or mate (a type of tea)
  • Poor oral health
  • Exposure to certain particles or chemicals in the workplace (wood dust, asbestos)
  • Asian ancestry

The primary ways to prevent cancers of the head and neck are by not using tobacco and limiting alcohol intake. Good oral hygiene is also very helpful. In addition, being aware of your risk factors can improve your prognosis by leading to early diagnosis and treatment.

The symptoms of head and throat cancers vary depending on the location of the cancer. These symptoms can be similar to those of other less serious conditions, so medical evaluation is necessary. Some of the symptoms include:

  • A sore or lump that does not heal
  • A constant sore throat
  • Frequent headaches
  • Swallowing and eating difficulty
  • Changes or hoarseness in voice
  • Pain when speaking or swallowing
  • Pain in the ears or teeth
  • Chronic sinus infections that do not respond to treatment
  • Swelling of the jawline or under the chin

Contact your healthcare provider if you have any of the above symptoms. He or she will review your symptoms and do a physical examination. They may also recommend one of the following tests:

  • A laryngoscopy, an examination of your mouth and throat using a special instrument
  • Removal of abnormal tissue for examination under a microscope (biopsy)

A biopsy is needed to determine if an abnormality is cancer. If your biopsy indicates you do have cancer, additional testing may be needed.

If your healthcare provider recommends a biopsy, prior to the surgery tell them about any medications you are taking (including over-the-counter medications and supplements). You should also ask about specific instructions to follow before and after the surgery. These include:

  • Medications you should not take before the procedure, such as blood thinners
  • Regular medications you should continue to take on the day of your surgery
  • How many hours you should stop eating and drinking before the surgery (if necessary)

If your biopsy indicates you do have cancer, or your cancer has spread, additional testing will most likely be needed.

Contact your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of head or neck cancer. Be prepared to discuss your symptoms and how long you have had them.

  • Bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations).
  • Make a list of your medications (including over-the-counter).
  • Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about.
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).

What should I ask my healthcare provider before having a biopsy?

  • What is the reason for the procedure? Are there any alternatives? What are the benefits and risks of each?
  • What are the possible complications for this procedure?
  • What happens if I do not go through with the procedure?
  • Is there any special preparation for the procedure? (If so, get clear instructions on what you need to do.) What kind of sedation will I have? What are the possible side effects?
  • How will I feel after the procedure and will I have to modify my activity?
  • How long will it be before I get the results of my biopsy?

Do not forget to make arrangements for transportation to and from the facility and help at home if needed.


Also known as:

Tongue Biopsy
Throat Biopsy
Neck Biopsy
Mouth Biopsy
Head Biopsy
Biopsy Neck
Biopsy Head
Biopsy - Neck
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