Head and Neck Cancers
Cancers of the head and neck are quite common with a range of different cancers a person can develop. The cancers that affect the head and neck often begin in the squamous cells that line the moist, mucosal surface inside the head and neck, cancer cells can also develop in the salivary glands, however, this is quite uncommon.
When cancers develop in the squamous cells, it’s often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas. Often, cancers of the head or neck are often categorised by the area in which they develop.
Oral or mouth cancer can develop anywhere on, or in the mouth. Lips, tongue, floor of mouth and inside the cheek are the most common places for oral cancer.
Doctors use different names to describe the area in which the cancer affects such as:
- – Cancer of the Nasopharynx- the Highest part of the throat behind the nose
- – Cancer of the Oropharynx- Part of the throat directly behind the mouth
- – Cancer of the Larynx- Better known as the ‘voice box’, this is the second most common head and neck cancer
- – Cancer of the thyroid gland- This is an endocrine gland in the centre of the neck
- – Cancer of sinuses – the sinus are small hollow spaces in the bones of the face surrounding the nose.
- – Cancer of salivary glands- The salivary glands are on the floor of the mouth near the jawbone
- – Cancer of middle ear- The middle ear is made up of the eardrum and the tympanum which contain three small bones. These bones connect the eardrum to the inner ear.
The use of alcohol and tobacco are the two biggest risk factors for head and neck cancers causing an estimated 75% of cases.
Other risks are:
- – HPV: Human papillomavirus increases the risk of oral cancers with the main ones being cancer s that involve the tonsils or base of the tongue.
- – Poor oral hygiene: Poor hygiene and missing teeth can increase the risk. Although it’s not yet proven, mouthwash containing alcohol may also increase the risk.
- – Exposure to radiation: Previous radiation treatment in the area or the head and neck can increase your risk.
Signs and symptoms
Although the signs and symptoms may vary, depending on where the cancer is located, the common indicators are:
- – Persistent blocked nose
- – Reoccurring nosebleeds
- – Ulcer in the mouth that doesn’t heal
- – Reoccurring mouth ulcers
- – Red or white patches in the mouth that don’t go away
- – Difficulty swallowing
- – Difficulty chewing food
- – Changes to the sound of your voice
- – A constant sore throat or an earache
- – Swelling or lump in face, neck or mouth
- – Pain or numbness in the face or upper jaw