Head & Neck Cancer Information

Head & Neck Cancer Information

Summary: Cancers that form in the head and neck usually begin as squamous cells that line the mucosal surfaces inside of the mouth, nose, throat and the salivary glands. These cancer cells are often called squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck.  These types of cancers are found in three percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States (NCI). Head and neck cancers are more prevalent in men than in women and are usually diagnosed more often in those over the age of fifty. Other major risk factors that increase your overall chances of developing these cancers are alcohol and tobacco use. Read more about head and neck cancers here.

Cancers that form in the head and neck usually begin as squamous cells that line the mucosal surfaces inside of the mouth, nose, throat and the salivary glands. These cancer cells are often called squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck.  These types of cancers are found in three percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States (NCI). Head and neck cancers are more prevalent in men than in women and are usually diagnosed more often in those over the age of fifty. Other major risk factors that increase your overall chances of developing these cancers are alcohol and tobacco use. Also, the infection that has been linked to causing many kinds of cancer, the human papilloma virus or HPV, also heightens your risk. There are other risk factors, and they include:

  • Eating preserved or salted foods.   
  • Poor oral hygiene and missing teeth.   
  • Occupational exposure to wood dust, asbestos, and synthetic fibers.   
  • Radiation exposure.   
  • Epstein-Barr virus infection.   
  • Asian ancestry, particularly Chinese ancestry.

The symptoms of head and neck cancer may include a lump or a sore that will not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, troublesome swallowing, and a change in the sound or hoarseness of your voice.

The top types of head and neck cancers are:

  • Oral cavity cancer. This includes the lips, front portion of the tongue, gums, the lining inside of the cheeks and lips, the bottom floor of the mouth underneath the tongue, the hard, bony palate of the mouth, and the area of the gums behind the wisdom teeth.
  • Pharynx cancer. The pharynx or throat is a hollow tube about five inches long that begins behind the nose and leads to the esophagus. It has three main parts: the nasopharynx, the oropharynx, and the hypopharynx.
  • Larynx cancer. The larynx, or voice box, is a short passageway formed by cartilage below the pharynx in the neck. This is the area where the vocal cords reside. This also has a small piece of tissue called the epiglottis, which moves to cover the larynx to prevent food from entering the airway.
  • Paranasal Sinus cavity cancer. These sinuses are small hollow spaces within the bones of the head surrounding the nose.
  • Salivary gland cancer. The major salivary glands reside on the floor of the mouth near the jawbone and produce saliva.

Head and neck cancers are diagnosed by your doctor after reviewing symptoms or signs that you may be experiencing and have brought to their attention. First you will have a basic examination for any visible signs, then they may order further diagnostic testing to confirm or disprove their theory. This is most often done with biopsies and tissue samples being viewed under the microscope.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, the doctor will order further testing to learn the grade, stage, and exact location of your cancer. Knowing these things can help you to get the right treatment for your situation and type of cancer, as all head and neck cancers are treated differently.

If you have noticed any of the signs of head or neck cancer, do not wait to make an appointment with your medical care team to begin testing. Early detection is always the safest and best bet when dealing with any new suspected medical condition.

Resources Used:

Reclaiming Intimacy

Mayo Clinic

NCI

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