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Introduction to Head and Neck Cancer

The head and neck region is an anatomically diverse area of the body that is composed of soft tissue, bones, skin, and a variety of glands and organs. Head and neck cancer encompasses a wide range of tumors that can develop in several areas of the head and neck, including the throat, larynx (voice box), nose, sinuses, and mouth.

Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas — malignant (cancerous) growths that begin in the flat squamous cells that form the epithelium (inner lining) in many parts of the head and neck. A tumor limited to this layer of cells is usually called carcinoma in situ. A tumor that grows beyond the squamous cells and moves into deeper tissues is called invasive squamous cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinomas arise in glandular cells, such as those found in the salivary glands.



Symptoms

Head And Neck Cancer Surgeon In Ahmedabad, Head And Neck Cancer Surgeon In Rajasthan, Head And Neck Cancer Surgeon In Baroda, Head And Neck Cancer Surgeon In Rajkot, Head And Neck Cancer Surgeon In Gujarat Below are some general symptoms and warning signs of head and neck cancer. Each type of head and neck cancer may be associated with a more specific group of symptoms. Many of these symptoms can also be caused by other health conditions. See your doctor if you notice:

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Types of Head & Neck Cancer

Cancer can develop in several different parts of the head and neck. Some of the most common include the following:


Oral Cancer

Cancer of the oral cavity (mouth) is the most common type of head and neck cancer. Oral cancer can begin in the lips, the gums, the area behind the molars or wisdom teeth, the inside of the lips and cheeks, the floor and roof (hard palate) of the mouth, and the front of the tongue. Most oral cancers arise in the tongue, the lip, the floor of the mouth, and the minor salivary glands. The rest are found in the gums and other sites.

Lip and oral cavity cancer may not have any symptoms and is sometimes found during a regular dental exam.


Tests that examine the mouth and throat are used to detect (find), diagnose, and stage lip and oral cavity cancer.

The following tests and procedures may be used:


Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

Prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:



Treatment options depend on the following:


Tobacco and alcohol use can affect the risk of lip and oral cavity cancer.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for lip and oral cavity cancer include the following:

Many oral cancers are found incidentally during a routine dental examination. Most of these cancers can be cured if discovered early. The most common symptoms include a sore or lump on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal; a white and/or red patch on the gums, tongue, or cheeks (these white or red areas may also be a precancerous condition called dysplasia); unusual or persistent bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth; and swelling that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.


Laryngeal Cancer


Laryngeal cancer — cancer that arises in the larynx (voice box) — is the second most common type of head and neck cancer. An estimated 12,000 new cases of laryngeal cancer are diagnosed in the US each year. The vast majority of laryngeal cancers occur in men.

The larynx is located at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and is surrounded by the hypopharynx (the lower part of the throat where swallowing takes place). The larynx is visible on most men's throats as the Adam's apple. The larynx contains two bands of muscle called vocal cords, which vibrate as air passes through to make speech. The larynx also prevents food from entering the lungs.

Tobacco and alcohol use — especially the combination of the two — are the most common risk factors for laryngeal cancer. Additional risk factors include exposure in the workplace to wood and metal dusts, asbestos, paint fumes, and other chemical inhalants; a diet low in vitamins A and E; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which chronically exposes the throat to stomach acid; and infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). People with aplastic anemia, a blood disorder associated with certain hereditary conditions, also have a higher risk of developing laryngeal cancer.

The most common symptoms of laryngeal cancer include hoarseness, a lump in the neck (due to an enlarged lymph node), ear pain, and difficulty swallowing.


Pharyngeal (Throat) Cancer


Pharyngeal cancer arises in the pharynx (throat), the hollow tube inside the neck that starts behind the nose and ends at the top of the esophagus. Tumors in this region include cancer of the nasopharynx (the upper part of the throat behind the nose), the oropharynx (the middle part of the pharynx), and the hypopharynx (the bottom part of the pharynx).


Nasopharyngeal Cancer

The nasopharynx, located behind the nose, includes two openings that lead to the ears. Nasopharyngeal cancer is much more common in Asia, especially southeast China, the Mediterranean area, and Africa than in the US, and is less commonly associated with tobacco and alcohol use than other head and neck cancers. Risk factors for this type of cancer include a diet high in salt-cured fish and infection with Epstein-Barr virus, a member of the herpesvirus family and one of the most common human viruses. The most common sign of nasopharyngeal cancer is a lump in the neck, caused by the spread of cancer to the lymph nodes. Other symptoms may include nasal congestion, pain or ringing in the ears, a persistent sore throat, or frequent nosebleeds.


Oropharyngeal Cancer

The oropharynx is located behind the mouth and includes the base of the tongue, the soft palate (the soft area just beyond the roof of the mouth), and the area around the tonsils. Smoking and chewing tobacco and heavy alcohol use are the most common risk factors for oropharyngeal cancer, but there is evidence that a diet low in fruits and vegetables is clearly linked to this form of head and neck cancer. Prior infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is also a particularly strong risk factor for this cancer site1. Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer may include a lump in the neck or throat, persistent sore throat, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and ear and/or jaw pain.


Hypopharyngeal Cancer

The hypopharynx is the uppermost portion of the esophagus (the tube through which food travels to the stomach) and surrounds the larynx (voice box). As with most other head and neck cancers, tobacco use and heavy alcohol consumption are the most common risk factors. Other risk factors for hypopharyngeal cancer may include a diet low in vitamins A and E; exposure in the work place to asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes, and other inhalants; and Plummer-Vinson syndrome (a rare condition that causes difficulty swallowing). Symptoms of hypopharyngeal cancer may include a lump in the neck, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and ear pain.


Nasal Cavity & Paranasal Sinus Cancers

More than half of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers occur in the maxillary sinuses (hollow spaces on either side of the nose and below the eyes); fewer cancers develop in the nasal cavity and in the ethmoid sinuses (sieve-like spaces made of thin bone and mucous tissues behind the bridge of the nose).

Symptoms of these head and neck cancers may include persistent nasal congestion, chronic sinus infections that do not respond to antibiotic treatment, frequent headaches or sinus pain, swelling of the eyes, and reduced sense of smell.


Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck below the larynx (voice box). The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, which makes hormones that help regulate metabolism (the body's transformation of food into energy), blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and other functions.


Parathyroid Tumors

The parathyroid is a small gland located at the base of the front of the neck, near the thyroid. This gland produces parathyroid hormone (PTH), which controls levels of calcium and phosphorous in the blood.


Prevention

Making certain lifestyle changes can significantly lower a person's risk of developing a head and neck cancer. Quitting smoking can substantially reduce the risk, even for those who smoked for many years. People who already have a head and neck cancer and quit using tobacco can reduce the risk of developing a second tumor by as much as 60 percent. People who are exposed to toxic fumes and dust in the work place or in other environments can reduce the risk of head and neck cancer by wearing protective face masks. Companies can also install air-filtering systems to minimize employees' exposure to harmful fumes and dust.