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Welcome to our health education library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.

Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer pertains to a group of biologically similar cancers that occurs in the head or neck region.

Head and neck cancer is the term given to a variety of malignant tumors. In general, they are identified by the area where they begin. These include the:

  • Oral cavity (mouth)
  • Pharynx (throat)
  • Paranasal sinuses (small hollow spaces around the nose lined with cells that secrete mucus)
  • Nasal cavity (airway just behind the nose)
  • Larynx (“Adam’s apple” or voice box)
  • Salivary glands (parotid, submandibular, sublingual glands that secrete saliva)

Head and neck cancers account for three percent to five percent of cancer cases in the U.S.

What causes head and neck cancers?

The usual causes of head and neck cancers include:

  • Tobacco use (chewed or smoked). More than eight out of every ten cases of head and neck cancer are attributed to tobacco use.
  • Alcohol use is another major risk factor, particularly those of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx and larynx. People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk for developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.
  • Sun overexposure.
  • Having human papillomavirus (HPV) infection can increase the risk of oral cavity cancer.
  • Radiation to the head and neck as a result of too much exposure to X-rays or from radiation therapy for noncancerous conditions or cancer.
  • Certain industrial exposures, such as wood or nickel dust inhalation, increases the risk of having cancer in the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.
  • Occupational exposure to wood dust and consumption of certain preservatives or salted foods heightens the risk of nasopharynx cancer.
  • Poor oral hygiene can be a factor for cancer or oropharynx cancer. HPV infection and the use of mouthwash that has a high alcohol content are possible, but not proven, risk factors.
  • People with Plummer-Vinson syndrome, a rare disorder that results from iron and other nutritional deficiencies, are susceptible to hypopharynx, a condition characterized by severe anemia and that leads to difficulty swallowing due to webs of tissue that grow across the upper part of the esophagus.
  • Exposure to airborne particles of asbestos, especially in the workplace can be a cause of cancer of the larynx.

What are the common symptoms of head and neck cancers?

The usual symptoms of several head and neck cancers include a lump or sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty swallowing and a change or hoarseness in the voice.

Other symptoms include:

  • Oral cavity. A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth; swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable; unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth.
  • Nasal cavity and sinuses. Sinuses that are blocked and do not clear; chronic sinus infections that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics; bleeding through the nose; frequent headaches; swelling or other trouble with the eyes; pain in the upper teeth; problems with dentures.
  • Salivary glands. Swelling under the chin or around the jawbone; numbness or paralysis of the muscles in the face; pain that does not go away in the face, chin or neck.
  • Oropharynx and hypopharynx. Ear pain.
  • Nasopharynx. Trouble breathing or speaking; frequent headaches; pain or ringing in the ears; trouble hearing.
  • Larynx. Pain when swallowing; ear pain.
  • Metastatic squamous neck cancer. Pain in the neck or throat that does not go away.

How are head and neck cancers evaluated?

Aside from physical examinations, diagnosis includes:

  • Taking tissue samples from the affected area and examining them under the microscope (biopsy)
  • Insertion of a thin, lighted tube called an endoscope to examine areas inside the body
  • Inserting a laryngoscope through the mouth to view the larynx
  • Inserting a esophagoscope through the mouth to examine the esophagus
  • Inserting a nasopharyngoscope through the nose so the doctor can see the nasal cavity and nasopharynx
  • Taking samples of blood, urine or other substances from the body
  • Taking X-rays images of areas inside the head and neck
  • CT (or CAT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI)
  • PET scan

If the diagnosis is cancer, the doctor will determine the stage of disease to find out whether the cancer has spread and to which parts of the body.

How are head and neck cancers treated?

Treatment approaches consider several factors, including the exact location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, and the person’s age and general health.

The approaches include:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer and some of the healthy tissue around it.
  • Radiation therapy. This treatment involves the use of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy. Also called anticancer drugs, this treatment is used to kill cancer cells throughout the body. The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drugs that are given.

For innovative, state-of-the art facial plastic and ENT surgical care, come to SoCal ENT. To schedule your one-on-one consultation with Dr. Namazie, please call us at 818.986.5500, or you can use our online Request an Appointment form.

 

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