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How a Diagnosis is Made

Woman in MRI Machine

To determine the cause of your symptoms, your doctor will review your medical history, perform a physical examination, and order diagnostic tests. The types of examinations and tests may vary depending on your signs and symptoms.

  • Your doctor may examine the oral and nasal cavities, neck, throat and tongue using a small mirror and light, or a specialized examination scope. Your doctor may also feel for lumps in the neck, lips, gums and cheeks.
  • Laboratory tests that examine samples of blood, urine, or other substances from the body may be ordered. You may also need one or more of the following imaging studies: X-Rays, a CT (or CAT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a PET scan.
  • Your doctor may also order a biopsy. A biopsy involves the removal of cells or tissues for examination under a microscope.

If the diagnosis is cancer, your doctor will want to learn the stage (or extent) of the disease. Staging is a careful attempt to learn whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to which parts of the body. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan your treatment and give you information about your prognosis.