Head and Neck Cancer

Cancer of the upper aerodigestive tract (improperly cancer of the head and neck) refers to any malignant tumor localized in the upper aerodigestive organ or tissue, which includes the sinuses, nasal cavity, pharynx (composed of the nasopharynx, oropharynx and hypopharynx), the oral cavity (the lips, cheeks, gums, the hard palate, area under the tongue, and others) and the larynx. Regardless of the organ affected, these types of cancer sharing some similitude related to consuming alcohol and tobacco. In other words, cancer of the head and neck is most common among smokers and heavy alcohol consumers.  

When the cancer affects the nasal cavity it is more commonly found in the skin of the nostrils and nasal mucosa. There is also nasopharyngeal cancer which affects the highest part of the throat; and paranasal sinus cancer, which starts from the lining air -filled space (sinus) along the nose in the facial bones. A cancer can also occur in the hypopharynx (h ypopharyngealCancer), thelower side of the pharynx.  Cancer can also occur in the oropharynx, the tube that connects the nose to the throat. This includes the base of the tongue, the soft palate (soft palate) and the sides and back of the throat including the tonsils.

Larynx cancer tends to start on one of the vocal cords or near thereto. The larynx is also called Adam’s apple. If you sink your fingers along the front of your throat you will feel your larynx as a bump up and down when you swallow. This bump is larger in men than in women. Other types of rare cancers of the head and neck include lymphomas, sarcomas and melanomas.

Causes of Cancers of the Head and Neck  

The exact causes of cancer of the head and neck are not known. It is, however, known that this cancer is not infectious. Cancers of the head and neck cannot be contracted by contact with another person, such as a cold or a cough. It is known that some factors increase the risk of developing cancer of the head and neck:

  • Poor diet
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol drinking
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Doing oral sex with an individual affected by chronic HPV infection.

Certain Cancers of the head and neck seem to be caused by specific factors. For example, nasopharyngeal cancer has been associated with Epstein- Barr virus (EBV), a very common virus which is also responsible for Infectious mononucleosis. EBV causes no cancer by itself, and it is not known why it is bound to tumor cells in certain cancer patients.

Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer 

The first symptom of a cancer of the head and neck is a painless swelling of some of these glands. But many symptoms may be indicative of cancer of the head and neck are rather common symptoms and are present in many other diseases. They do not necessarily mean that you have the cancer. It is therefore important that you consult your doctor, especially if the symptoms last more than a few weeks. Symptoms of cancer of the head and neck will vary depending on the site of the tumor. For instance, a nasopharyngeal cancer can lead to persistent nasal bleeding.

Symptoms of cancer of the head and neck are in particular:

  • puffy face
  • Swelling around the eyes or double vision
  • Pain in the face or upper jaw
  • Numbness in the mouth
  • Bleeding in the mouth or throat
  • Swelling or lump in the mouth
  • wound or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal in a few weeks
  • red and white patches in the mouth that can be painful or bleeding sometimes
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Persistent pain or numbness of the throat or part of the face
  • Persistent hoarseness or voice change
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • persistent obstruction of the nose or sinuses, or nose bleeds
  • Ear pain persistent ringing in the ears (tinnitus) or hearing difficulties
  • Swelling of one or more glands (lymph nodes) in the neck.

Specific symptoms of laryngeal cancer
Hoarseness is often the first symptom of cancer of the larynx because even a small tumor can interfere with the normal functioning of the vocal cords. If the cancer has started elsewhere in the larynx, the first symptom may be a lump in the throat or neck discomfort or pain when swallowing. Ear pain, continuous or increasing shortness of breath sensation may also occur.

Head and Neck Cancer Treatment 

There is no unique treatment for neck and head cancer but it often includes Surgery, Chemotherapy and Photodynamic Therapy.  Your doctor will decide your treatment depending on the type and size of the cancer and its spreading characteristic. The health care provider will also take into account your age and your general condition. Your treatment may be different if you have been treated for cancer of the head or neck that has recurred.

It is important that you ask all the questions you want about your treatment. It may be helpful to make a list of questions before seeing your doctor. If necessary, you may choose to be accompanied by a family member or a friend during the consultation. Different types of treatment can be administered alone or in combination.

Some other therapies such as surgical therapy and radiation therapy can be performed only once at the site depending on the location of the tumor. For non-operable cancers chemotherapy and photodynamic therapy can be administered repeatedly.

You can find other people with the same cancer receive different treatments from yours. This is because the same type of cancer can take different forms, and requires different treatments. Doctors also have their own conception of treatment. Most of them have no objection to refer you to another specialist so that you can have a second opinion. It is important, however, if you feel that a second opinion may help that you see another oncologist.

Clinical Trials 

You may be seeking to participate in a clinical trial. These medications are compared with different treatments and are approved by specific ethical health organizations or committees. Your doctor will discuss the trials with you so that you can understand what involved and what to expect. You are not required to participate in a trial, but it is often in your interest to do so, and you can terminate your participation at any time.

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