A number of cancers are collectively known as Head and Neck Cancer. The squamous cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside different areas of the head and neck such as the mouth, the nose and the throat are the places from where they start. We can further categorize cancers of the head and neck on the basis of the areas of the head and neck where they begin. The descriptions of the various subsites are given below:
Oral cavity: The various parts of the area include the lips, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the gums, the lining inside the cheeks and lips, the floor (bottom) of the mouth under the tongue, the hard palate (bony top of the mouth), and the small area of the gum behind the wisdom teeth.
Pharynx: There are three parts of the pharynx (throat), which is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and leads to the esophagus. These are the nasopharynx (the upper part of the pharynx, behind the nose), the oropharynx (the middle part of the pharynx, including the soft palate [the back of the mouth], the base of the tongue, and the tonsils) and the hypopharynx (the lower part of the pharynx).
Larynx: A short passageway formed by cartilage just below the pharynx in the neck is called the larynx or the voice box. The vocal cords are contained in the larynx. To prevent food from entering the air passages, there is a small piece of tissue, called the epiglottis, which moves to cover the larynx.
Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity: There are small hollow spaces in the bones of the head surrounding the nose. These are called the paranasal sinuses. There is a hollow space inside the nose which is called the nasal cavity.
Salivary glands: The floor of the mouth is the place where the major salivary glands exist which produce saliva. They are also found near the jawbone.
Sometimes, surgery is needed for the treatment of Head and Neck Cancers and for that you must go to one of the best Surgical Oncologists.
Two most important risk factors for head and neck cancers, especially cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and larynx are alcohol and tobacco use including chewing tobacco or snuff. Tobacco and alcohol use causes most of the head and neck cancers. It has been found that rather than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone, those who use both tobacco and alcohol have a greater risk of having these cancers. The following are some other risk factors for head and neck cancers:
Paan (betel leaf): There is an increased risk of oral cancer if anyone uses paan more so when one uses supari (areca nut).
Preserved or salted foods: If certain preserved or salted food is consumed in childhood, there can be a risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.
Oral Health: Factors for cancers of the oral cavity may be poor oral hygiene, sharp tooth or ill-fitting dentures.
Occupational exposure: A risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer is occupational exposure to wood dust. Those who are associated with certain jobs in the construction, metal, textile, ceramic, logging and food industries may have an increased risk of cancer of the larynx. For cancers of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity, industrial exposure to wood or nickel dust is a risk factor.
Radiation exposure: A risk factor for cancer of the salivary glands is radiation to the head and neck for noncancerous conditions or cancer.
Epstein-Barr virus infection: For nasopharyngeal cancer and cancer of the salivary glands, a risk factor is an infection with the Epstein-Barr virus.
Ancestry: A risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer is Asian ancestry, particularly Chinese ancestry.
There are many symptoms of head and neck cancers. They may include a lump or a sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty in swallowing and a change or hoarseness in the voice. You should consult a Head and Neck Cancer doctor if you see or feel any of the symptoms of cancer in different areas of head and neck which include the following:
Oral cavity: A swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable, a white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth and unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth.
Pharynx: Pain in the neck or the throat, frequent headaches, pain or ringing in the ears, pain during swallowing, trouble in breathing, speaking or hearing.
Larynx: Change or hoarseness of voice, recurrent chest infections.
Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity: Frequent headaches, swelling or other trouble in the eyes, chronic sinus infections not responding to antibiotic treatment, sinuses that are blocked and do not clear, bleeding from the nose, pain in the upper teeth or problems with dentures.
Salivary glands: Swelling under the chin or around the jawbone or pain in the face, chin or neck, Paralysis of facial muscles in advance cases.
A number of factors are taken into consideration by Head and Neck Cancer surgeon while deciding the treatment plan for an individual patient. They are the exact location of a tumour, the stage of cancer, the person’s age and general health. There are various methods of treatment of head and neck cancer which include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy. Sometimes, a combination of treatments is also used. A cancer specialist can assess and advise the best based on the understanding of the basic principles of oncology.
“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice” – Anton Chekov