Head and Neck Cancers
This type of cancer develops in the tissues of the head and neck. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most prevalent type of this cancer. It affects the mouth, nose, and throat, particularly on the flat cells lining these surfaces.
Other less common types of head and neck cancer include adenocarcinoma cancer, esophageal cancer, blood cancer, salivary gland cancer, skin cancer, breast cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, pharyngeal cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, laryngeal cancer, and thyroid cancer.
A variety of lifestyle factors and medical conditions can increase your risk of developing head and neck cancer. These are some examples:
- Oral health conditions, including gum disease, have been linked to oral cavity cancers. Regular brushing and flossing can help reduce your risk of developing these cancers
- Viruses such as the papillomavirus (HPV) and the Epstein-Barr virus have been linked to head neck cancers. Vaccinations can help prevent HPV infections, and there is no vaccine available for the Epstein-Barr virus
- A weakened immune system increases your chances of getting cancer. If you have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, be sure to talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk of cancer
- Being overweight or obese raises your chances of developing head and neck cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can help reduce your risk
- Smoking or chewing pan, areca, betel, and gutka nuts, increases your risk of developing head and neck cancer
- Having previously received radiation therapy to the head and neck area can increase your risk of developing head and neck cancer.
- Inheriting a head and neck cancer-related condition like Li-Fraumeni syndrome and Fanconi anemia also makes you susceptible to head and neck cancers
Head and neck cancer can present a variety of symptoms, depending on the tumor’s location. Common symptoms include a persistent sore throat, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and a lump or mass in the neck. Cancerous tumors can also cause changes in the appearance of the skin, such as red or white patches, ulcers, or unusual growths.
In some cases, head and neck cancer can also lead to numbness or paralysis in the facial muscles. If you experience these symptoms, It would be best to see head and neck cancer specialists for a proper diagnosis.
Who Gets It
Head and neck cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the head and neck region, including the nose, throat, and mouth. According to Cancer.Net, this cancer type is most common in people over 50. However, men are more susceptible to this type of cancer than women.
Several risk factors for head and neck cancer include smoking, heavy alcohol use, and exposure to asbestos, certain chemicals in pesticides or viruses like HPV. People with a family history of head and neck cancer are also at increased risk.
How to Prevent
What Research Says
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, with over 14 million new cases diagnosed yearly. Head and neck cancers account for approximately 4% of all cancer cases in the United States. Exposure to tobacco and alcohol are key risk factors for this disease, and the incidence of head and neck cancer is rising in many countries due to increased tobacco use. Tobacco use is responsible for around 85% of head and neck cancers.
Head and neck cancer can be caused by several factors, including smoking, excessive alcohol use, and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. However, some simple steps everyone can take to reduce their risk of developing this type of cancer.
- Avoid Tobacco Products
One of the most important things you can do is to avoid using tobacco products. If you smoke, quitting is the best way to reduce your head and neck cancer risk. If you can't quit smoking, consider using tobacco alternatives, such as e-cigarettes.
- Limit Alcohol Intake
It's also important to limit your alcohol intake. Drinking in moderation is fine, but excessive alcohol use can increase cancer risk.
- Avoid UV Radiation
You should also take steps to protect yourself from UV radiation. When you're outdoors, wear clothing that covers your head and neck, and use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. It would help if you also avoided tanning machines, as they emit high levels of UV radiation. Taking these simple precautions can significantly reduce your risk of head and neck cancer.
It would also help to wear protective clothing when dealing with chemicals and when working in older buildings.
Tests & Diagnosis
How is it given?
There are several tests and procedures used to diagnose head and neck cancer. A physical exam is usually the first step in the diagnosis, during which head and neck cancer specialists check for lumps or other unusual changes in the head and neck area. Whatever the results, your head and neck cancer doctor may also perform the following tests.
For this process, your head and neck specialist will remove a small tissue from the area in question for examination. This test is often needed to confirm the presence of cancer.
- Blood Tests
A blood sample is taken from a vein in the arm and sent to a laboratory for testing. The results of the blood tests can help the doctor determine if there are cancer cells in the body.
- Pee Tests
A sample of urine is collected and sent to a laboratory for testing. Just like the blood tests, the results of the urine tests can help the doctor determine if there are cancer cells in the body.
- HPV Test
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can cause certain types of cancer, including head and neck cancer. The HPV test can help the doctor determine if there is an infection with HPV.
A doctor looks at the inside of your head and neck with a tube that goes through your nasal cavity and down your throat. This test can help the head neck cancer doctor determine if there are any tumors in the susceptible areas.
- Imaging Tests
Your head and neck oncology may also order imaging tests like computed tomography (CT) scans, x-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. These tests allow for a better look at the head and neck area.
- Prognosis of Head and Neck Cancer
Once cancer is diagnosed, additional tests may be done to determine the stage of the disease. Head and neck cancer prognosis depends on several factors, including the cancer stage, the tumor size, and the tumor's location.
Cancer treatment options, such as surgery, radiation oncology, and chemotherapy, can also affect the prognosis. A patient with early-stage head and neck cancer generally has a good prognosis, while those with the late-stage disease have a poor prognosis. This information is important in planning treatment.