Head and neck cancers encompass several different diseases that can affect the mouth, nose, throat and other surrounding areas. Most cancers of the head and neck begin in the lining of moist, mucosal surfaces such as the mouth, nose and throat. The cells in the lining are known as squamous cells, and may, therefore, be affected by squamous cell carcinomas. The different types of cancer associated with the head and neck include: oral cavity, salivary glands, nasal cavity, pharynx, larynx, lymph nodes.
Cancer can spread to other areas of the body and lead to serious complications. Prompt, thorough treatment is essential in restoring the health and overall well-being of patients with head and neck cancer.
Fortunately, many people with head and neck cancers experience symptoms right away that lead to an early diagnosis. Symptoms of head and neck cancers vary but may include: lump in the neck, hoarseness or other change in the voice, growth in the mouth, blood in saliva, difficulty swallowing, earache, new or changed growths on the skin.
If a patient is experiencing any of these symptoms, a doctor may perform an endoscopy, blood and urine test, imaging test and biopsy, along with a complete physical examination. In order to confirm a diagnosis of cancer, a tissue sample needs to be examined under a microscope.
Once cancer has been diagnosed, it is important to determine the stage of the disease and whether or not it has spread to other areas of the body. Staging usually involves imaging procedures and can help determine the best treatment approach.
Treatment for cancer depends on the type and location of the tumor, as well as the patient’s age and overall health. Treatment often includes surgery to remove the cancer, as well as tissue and some surrounding healthy tissue to ensure thorough eradication of the disease. Surgery may cause swelling and bruising, and may affect the patient’s ability to chew, swallow or talk. Chemotherapy is often administered after surgery and uses medication to kill cancer cells over repeated treatment sessions. Similarly, radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells.