Head and Neck Cancer

Overview of Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer is a very broad category of cancers that develop and occur in this area. The treatment that is recommended for you will depend on a variety of factors, such as size, location, and type of cancer. The most common treatments are radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. A combination of these may be used. Head and neck cancer accounts for roughly 4% of the cancers that are diagnosed. It is more common in men than women and more common in people over the age of 50. Once the cancer has been diagnosed, your physician can begin treatment. Once treatment is complete, then rehabilitation may be ordered to re-learn how to eat, speak, and breathe properly. Follow up appointments to ensure the cancer has not returned is essential.

Types of Head and Neck Cancer

There are a variety of types of head and neck cancer including: esthesioneuroblastoma, floor of the mouth cancer, lip cancer, mouth cancer, nasal and paranasal tumors, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, pituitary tumors, salivary gland tumors, skin cancer, soft palate cancer, throat cancer, thyroid cancer, tongue cancer, and tonsil cancer.

Cancers in the head and neck usually begin in the squamous cells that line the surfaces that stay moist, such as in the nose, throat, or mouth. They can also be found in oral cavities, such as gums, tongue, lips, cheeks, etc.

Causes of Head and Neck Cancer

Alcohol and tobacco use are the most common causes of head and neck cancer. People who use these items are at an extremely high risk for developing head and neck cancer. Another main cause of head and neck cancer is preserved and salted foods. Poor oral health may cause the teeth to become weak and cause cancer in oral cavities. Keeping your dentist appointments are essential in reducing the risk of head and neck cancer.

Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer

Since there are so many types of head and neck cancer, there are also a variety of symptoms that can occur. You may notice the following occur: a growth in the mouth, lump on your neck, persistent sore throat, change in voice, difficulty swallowing, change in the skin, producing blood in the saliva, numbness in the tongue, and pain around the eat. If you wear dentures, you may also notice changes in this.

Risk Factors of Head and Neck Cancer

The main cause of head and neck cancer is the use of tobacco and alcohol. People who use tobacco and alcohol are at an even high risk. There are also certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection are at a high risk as well. Epstein-Barr infection, work-related exposure, and radiation exposure also put you at an increased risk. Asian ancestry also causes you to be at a high risk for head and neck cancer.

Preventing Head and Neck Cancer

The best way to prevent head and neck cancer is to avoid alcohol and tobacco. Nearly 75% of people diagnosed with head and neck cancer are tobacco and/or alcohol users. If you need help quitting, ask your physician for help. There are many programs and ways to help you quit these habits. Smokeless tobacco should also not be used.

The HPV vaccine can also prevent new infections in the types of HPV that are known to cause cancer.

When you are outside, be sure to use lip balm that contains sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat. Do not use indoor tanning beds.

It is important to keep your routine dentist appointments. These checkups are most commonly when the head and neck cancers are found. When the cancer is found earlier, then it is easier to treat.

Diagnosing Head and Neck Cancer

The first step in diagnosing head and neck cancer is to have your physician look over your medical history, a physical examination and various diagnostic tests may also be ordered. The types of tests that are ordered will be dependent on your symptoms. An examination of the tissues in question will be done under the microscope to confirm the cancer diagnosis.

Once the cancer has been diagnosed, your physician will look for other tests to be ran. This will help the physician see the stage of cancer that it is. This will also show the physician if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. You may be ordered to have x-rays, imaging procedures, or other laboratory tests ran. Once the physician knows the stage of cancer, then treatment can begin.

Treating Head and Neck Cancer

Treatment will vary between individuals because of the location of the cancer, stage, and type of cancer. Your physician will decide on your treatment based on your other preexisting conditions as well.

Surgery may be done to remove a cancerous tissue or tumor site. If tumors are found in the early stages, laser technology may be done to remove them. The risk of surgery is difficulty swallowing and speaking.

Radiation therapy can be used to destroy the cancer and may be used in addition to other treatments. The risk of radiation therapy is mouth sores, nausea, difficulty swallowing, hearing loss, change in taste, loss of appetite, change in voice, tooth decay, swelling, etc.

Chemotherapy is done in some cases as well. The side effects from this area vomiting, infections, fatigue, hair loss, diarrhea, or loss of appetite.

Once treatment is complete, some patients will require rehabilitation to learn how to eat, speak, and breathe properly again as treatment may have affected these skills.

Follow up care after the treatment of head and neck cancer is essential. Your physician will order periodic imaging tests to ensure the cancer has not spread or that it is not reoccurring. Once you have gone through cancer treatment, it is essential that you end the use of tobacco and alcohol as well. If you continue to smoke, the effectiveness of treatment the second time drastically decreases. You must also keep all follow up appointments with your physician to keep a close eye on the reoccurrence of cancer.