Head and neck cancers usually begin in the cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck. These surfaces include the mouth, the nose, and the throat, although can include other structures like the salivary glands, thyroid gland, lymph nodes, and skin. Head and neck cancers account for approximately 3% of cancers in the U.S. each year.
Risk factors for head and neck cancer include: History of smoking or excessive alcohol use. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes; chewing tobacco are the largest risk factors for head and neck cancer. Roughly 85% of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use. Individuals who drink two alcoholic beverages per day increase their risk twenty times. A newly recognized risk factor is exposure to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV, which is sexually transmitted, has been linked with the development of head and neck cancers particularly in the tonsil region and base of tongue. This same virus is also a causative factor in certain types of cervical cancer in women .
Signs and symptoms of Head & Neck Cancer MAY include a sore in the mouth or throat that does not heal, persistent pain, red or white patches in the mouth, changes in voice, pain around teeth as well as loosening of teeth. Other common symptoms include trouble swallowing or abnormal bleeding. It is not unusual for these types of cancer to present as a painless lump in the neck or throat. Symptoms tend to differ depending on location and advanced stage of disease. If a patient has any of these symptoms or perhaps has identified risk factors, you should consider an evaluation with a trained medical professional .Evaluation often includes a thorough evaluation in the office of an Ear Nose Throat Specialist, imaging (CT or MRI), lab testing, and biopsy .Early detection of these cancers can lead to a high cure rate for many patients.
Treatment options for patients with head and cancer will vary, and depend on many factors, such as the disease location, cancer type, size, and any local spread to lymph nodes or more distant spread to other body regions such as the lung. All our Head and Neck Cancer patients are first evaluated in our multi-disciplinary cancer center affiliated with Beth Israel and Dana Farber so that patients have the most up to date and comprehensive testing and treatment available. Many head and neck cancers that are diagnosed early and are localized to a specific area may be treated with surgery and/or radiation therapy. For cancers that are larger or have spread to other regions, chemotherapy may be used in combination with other treatment options .
If you, a family member, or friend have any concerning signs or symptoms in the head & neck, please contact our office for an appointment.