Head and Neck Cancers

Head and neck cancer refers to tumors that start in or near your throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), nose, sinuses, or the oral cavity (mouth, tongue, tonsils). Additionally, tumors may arise from the salivary glands, bone, nerves, and muscles of the area. Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the cells that line the surfaces of these body parts. This is the most common type of head and neck cancer.

Are There Different Types of Head and Neck Cancer?

There are five main types of head and neck cancer, which include the oral cavity, the pharynx, the larynx, the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, and the salivary glands.

Oral Cavity – This type of cancer affects the lips, tongue, gums, the lining inside the cheeks, the floor (bottom) of the mouth under the tongue, the hard palate (bony top of the mouth), and the small area of the gum behind the wisdom teeth.
Pharynx (throat) – This type of cancer affects the nasopharynx (upper part of the pharynx, behind the nose); the oropharynx (middle part of the pharynx including the soft palate and the back portion of the mouth, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils); and the hypopharynx (the lower part of the pharynx).
Larynx (voice box) – This type of cancer affects the vocal cords, epiglottis, and arytenoid cartilage.
Paranasal Sinuses and Nasal Cavity – This type of cancer affects the paranasal sinuses that are small hollow spaces in the bones of the head surrounding the nose, and the nasal cavity which is the hollow space inside the nose.
Salivary glands – This type of cancer affects any of the 3 paired sets of salivary glands, including the parotid (located in the cheeks just in front of the ears), the sublingual and submandibular glands (located below the tongue and jaw bone respectively).
Because there are a wide variety of tumors that can arise in the head and neck, treatment is generally tailored to both the specific type of tumor and the location of that tumor. Any mass that is worrisome should be evaluated by a physician who is familiar with head and neck cancers. Typically, imaging studies and a biopsy will need to be done prior to determining the appropriate course of treatment.

What Causes Head and Neck Cancer?

The biggest cause of head and neck cancer is tobacco, including chewing tobacco and using snuff, not just smoking.

What Are The Risks for Getting Head and Neck Cancer?

There are also a number of factors that increase your risk of getting head and neck cancer including

  • Breathing in Secondhand Smoke (from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes)
  • Getting Too Much Sun
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV–a sexually transmitted disease)
  • Epstein-Barr Virus (the virus that causes mono)
    Drinking Too Much Alcohol
  • Being a Man
    Being Older Than 40
  • Being African-American
  • Poor Oral Hygiene (of mouth and teeth)
  • Breathing in Asbestos, Wood Dust, Paint, and Chemical Fumes
  • Smoking Pot
  • Having a Deficiency in Vitamin A or B
  • Acid Reflux
  • Having a Weak Immune System

If you drink too much and smoke, you double your risk of getting head and neck cancer.

What Are Symptoms of a Head and Neck Cancer?

Generally, symptoms associated with head and neck cancer include a lump in your neck; growths or sores in your mouth (even if they don’t hurt); blood in your spit or phlegm; and changes in your skin that might signal skin cancer.

Other specific symptoms per specific type of head and neck cancer are as follows:

Oral Cavity. Symptoms include red or white patches in your mouth, including your gums and tongue; swelling in your jaw, including swelling that makes false teeth fit badly; and bleeding or pain in your mouth.

Pharynx. Symptoms include trouble breathing or talking; painful swallowing; neck or throat pain that doesn’t go away; earaches, pain, or ringing in your ears that keeps coming back; and trouble hearing.

Larynx. Symptoms include painful swallowing; ear pain, and changes in your voice.

Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinuses. Symptoms include chronic sinus infections that antibiotics don’t cure; blocked sinuses you can’t clear; nosebleeds; headaches; swelling around the eyes; pain in your upper teeth; and problems with false teeth not fitting anymore.

Salivary Glands. Symptoms include swelling under your chin; swelling around your jawbone; numb or paralyzed face muscles; and pain in your face, chin, or neck that doesn’t go away.

How is Head and Neck Cancer Diagnosed?

If you do smoke and drink in excess, you should have yearly exams where your doctor examines your neck for any lumps and the inside of your mouth, nose, and throat for any signs of cancer.

If you have symptoms of a head and neck cancer, your doctor may order a few tests, which may include a blood test, pee tests, an HPV test, an endoscopy (a scope used to look at the inside of your head and neck with a tube that goes in through your nose and down your throat), tissue sample (biopsy) and lab tests of a tumor if there is one, X-rays, and scans.

If you have a head and neck cancer, your doctor will figure out what stage of disease you may have and if it has spread to any other parts of your body.

What Are the Treatment Options for Head and Neck Cancer?

Your doctor will determine the best treatment option for you based on several factors:

  • Location of cancer
  • Stage of disease
  • Your age
  • Your general health
  • If you have HPV

Based on these factors, your doctor may recommend that you have surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy–or some combination of these treatments.

Surgery. Your doctor may zap the cancer with a laser or remove the tumor and some of the surrounding healthy tissue. If the cancer has spread, your doctor may take out some of the small glands called lymph nodes in your neck.

Side effects of surgery may include losing your voice, hearing loss, trouble chewing or swallowing, and swelling of the mouth or throat.

Radiation Therapy. X-rays or other energy particles are used to kill the cancer cells.

Side effects of radiation therapy include pain or trouble swallowing, changes in your voice, loss of appetite, red or irritated skin, thick spit, feeling sick to your stomach, being tired, sore throat, and sore in your mouth.

Chemotherapy. Medication is administered to stop the cancer cells from growing and dividing.

Side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue, infection, nausea, hair loss, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.

Targeted Therapy. Medication is administered tow rok on the genes, proteins, and other parts of the cancer cells.

Side effects of targeted therapy depend on the type of medication used but may include problems with your skin, hair, nails or eyes.

Immunotherapy. This treatment uses parts of your immune system to help fight cancer. Doctors either stimulate your immune system to attack cancer cells or they can give you man-made proteins to strengthen your immune system.

If you or a loved one has an issue with snoring, contact ENT of Parker at (303) 840-9690 for consultation, diagnosis, and treatment recommendation.