Head and neck cancer accounts for an estimated three (3) percent of all cancers in the United States. Historically linked to people in their 50’s and older, sadly, there are an increasing number of patients being diagnosed in their 30’s and 40’s due in part to the association of human papillomavirus (HPV)-linked cancers. With improved treatments, however, patients of all ages are surviving longer than ever before.
And the physician experts at ENT Associates can help.
Cancer and tumors of the head and neck are classified according to where they are in the body. They include:
- Oral cavity. This region includes the lips, tongue, hard palate, gums, and mouth.
- Larynx. Comprised of the vocal cords and epiglottis.
- Pharynx. There are three sections of the throat: the nasopharynx (the upper portion, located behind the nose), oropharynx (the middle section, which includes the soft palate and tonsils), and hypopharynx (the lower portion).
- Paranasal sinuses. The nasal cavity.
- Salivary glands. Located at the bottom of the mouth near the jawbone.
Other types of cancers in proximity, like brain tumors and thyroid cancer, behave very differently and are not considered cancers of the neck and head.
Men are twice as likely to have head and neck cancers, especially those who use tobacco (smoking and smokeless) or alcohol, but head and neck cancer can affect anyone. Risk factors include, but aren’t limited to:
- Exposure to industrial toxins
- Dietary factors
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Asbestos exposure
- Exposure to occupational or medical radiation
Successful treatment of head and neck cancer is dependent on early detection. Therefore, we encourage you to know the warning signs so that you can alert your doctor of your symptoms as quickly as possible.
Knowing and recognizing the signs can save your life!
Symptoms of head and neck cancers are akin to those associated with other conditions and may seem harmless at first. Patients most commonly present with swelling, neck masses, or a sore/lesion which does not heal on its own.
Other common symptoms include:
- Change in voice — including hoarseness and a sore throat that doesn’t respond to routine antibiotics
- Coughing up blood
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Ear pain or trouble hearing
- Intractable coughing
- Facial numbness or paralysis
- Unexplained loss of weight
Some of the symptoms and signs described here can occur with no cancer present. However, you cannot be sure without an examination. So, if you experience one or any combination of these symptoms, do not hesitate to see your doctor.
Patients experiencing head-and-neck-cancer symptoms will have their medical histories taken and be given complete physical examinations. Various diagnostic tests, including endoscopy, biopsy, and blood, urine and imaging tests will be performed. A definitive diagnosis of cancer will be given only after a tissue sample has been biopsied.
If cancer is diagnosed, it is important to determine the stage (severity) of the disease, which includes whether it has spread to other areas of the body. To determine a cancer’s stage, imaging tests are usually performed. Until the stage has been determined, an effective treatment plan cannot be devised.
If detected early, head and neck cancer is often curable. Treatment depends upon several factors — the size and location of the cancer / tumor, its stage, and your age and health must all be taken into consideration.
Possible treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these, some of which can affect eating, speaking, or even breathing. In that instance, patients may require rehabilitation.
At ENT Associates, our team of experts will collaborate with any and all medical expert(s) necessary to orchestrate the best treatment approach based on these unique factors.
The information provided above is for general use only, and medical decisions should not be made without consulting a physician. The information is provided by The American Academy of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery Foundation.