Head and Neck Cancer: Symptoms, Risk Factor, Diagnosis and Treatment

head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancer (HNC) involves a group of cancer that starts in the squamous cells lining the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck (the nose, throat or inside the mouth). HNC is predominantly common in the Southeast Asian countries and according to a study, it is the 6th most common forms of cancer around the world. In clinical terms, this cancer is called head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). In India, the predominant form of HNSCC is oral cancer due to excessive use of tobacco, supari, alcohol, and smoking.

Read on to know more details about HNC.

Symptoms of Head and neck cancer

The first symptom of HNC is a lump that does not heal even after months, a sore throat that is unresponsive to medicines, difficulty in swallowing and a change in voice. These symptoms do not necessarily mean cancer, they might happen as a result of other causes too.

The HNC is not specific to a single organ in the body. They are spread among various regions of the head and neck; therefore the symptoms vary for each.

Symptoms of Oral cavity cancer:

  • Red and white patches in the mouth, tongue, and gums
  • Swelling in jaw
  • Pain and bleeding in the mouth

Symptoms of Pharynx cancer:

  • Painful swallowing
  • Trouble breathing or talking
  • Chronic throat and neck pain
  • Earaches/Trouble hearing

Symptoms of Larynx cancer:

  • Ear pain
  • Change/hoarseness in the voice
  • Trouble swallowing

Symptoms of cancer in Nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses:

  • Incurable sinus infections
  • Blocked sinuses
  • Headaches
  • Nosebleeds
  • Pain in upper teeth
  • Swelling around eyes 

Symptoms of cancer in salivary glands:

  • Swelling under the chin
  • Paralyzed face muscles
  • Swelling around the jaw bone
  • Pain in the face, chin, and neck                       

Risk factors of Head and neck cancer

Here are some common factors that raise the risk of developing head and neck cancer:

  • Chewing tobacco and using snuff
  • Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes/pot
  • Secondhand smoking
  • Too much alcohol consumption
  • HPV virus
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Deficiency in Vitamin A and B
  • Weak immune system
  • Acid reflux

Diagnosis of Head and neck cancer:

When you go for your annual checkups, make sure that your doctor also looks inside your mouth, nose, and throat. He must check for the presence of lumps in your neck region too. This is related to everyone who uses tobacco or has used it in the past or who is a regular drinker.

Your doctor might recommend you a few tests to diagnose if he finds anything abnormal.

  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • HPV test
  • Endoscopy
  • Biopsy on a tissue sample
  • Scans and X-rays

Treatment of Head and neck cancer:

The mode of treatment to be administered depends on a number of different factors

  • Location of the cancer
  • Stage of cancer
  • Age and lifestyle
  • General health
  • If you are HPV infected

The doctor might suggest a targeted therapy or a combination of treatments like radiation, chemotherapy or surgery. Talk to your doctor and get to know all the side-effects associated with the treatment procedure. You must take special care of your diet and lifestyle once you are being treated to strengthen your immune system. 

Also, Read:

A New Test Discovered to Detect all Types of Cancer in Minutes


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