What is cancer?
Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells in an orderly way.
Sometimes, however, cells do not die. Instead, they continue to
divide and create new cells that the body does not need. The extra
cells form a mass of tissue, called a growth or tumor. Cancer growth
invades normal structures near the growth and spreads to other parts
of the body.
What kinds of cancers are considered cancers of the
head and neck?
Cancers of the head and neck are identified by the area in which
• Salivary glands
• Sinuses and nasal cavity.
• Pharynx. The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that
starts behind the nose and leads to the food pipe and the trachea.
• Voice Box
• Lymph nodes in the upper part of the neck.
Cancers of the thyroid as well as those of the scalp, skin, muscles,
and bones of the head and neck are also grouped with cancers of the
head and neck.
What are the major contributing factors for head
and neck cancers?
The major causes for head
and neck cancers are tobacco and alcohol use, including cigarettes,
snuff, chewing tobacco, betel leaf, lime, areca nut, paan and gutka.
Combining tobacco and alcohol use poses an even greater risk.
What are the warning signs of head and neck
Having any of the following symptoms for more than three weeks
warrants a visit to a head and neck specialist:
A sore on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal
A lump on the lip or in the mouth or throat
A white (leukoplakia) or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of
Unusual bleeding, pain or numbness in the mouth
A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing
Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become
A change in the voice or hoarseness
Pain in the ear without evidence of local ear problems
Loose teeth not associated with any gum problems
Swelling, numbness, paralysis of the muscles in the face
Chronic sinus infections that do not respond to treatment with
Bleeding through the nose, frequent headaches, swelling or other
trouble with the eyes.
These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious
How are head and neck cancers treated?
The treatment plan for an individual patient depends on a number of
factors. The patient and the doctor should consider treatment
• Surgery is a good way to remove the cancer especially if it has
been diagnosed early.
• Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy x-rays to kill
• Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells throughout the body. In
general, anticancer drugs affect rapidly growing cells, including
blood cells that fight infection.
What can be done to reduce the risk of developing a
second new cancer?
People who have been treated for head and neck cancer have an
increased chance of developing a new cancer, usually in the head and
neck, food pipe or lungs. The chance is higher for people who smoke
and drink alcohol. Patients who do not smoke should never start.
Those who smoke should do their best to quit.
The contents are meant for informative, educational purposes only. Formal recommendations can only be made by physicians involved in your care. Please check with your physician before acting on any part of this article.
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