Head and neck cancers encompass several different diseases that can affect the mouth, nose, throat and other surrounding areas. Over 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year, as these diseases account for three to five percent of all cancers. Many cases of head and neck cancer can be prevented through life changes.
Several different types of cancer can affect the areas of the head and neck. Most begin in the lining of moist, mucosal surfaces such as the mouth, nose and throat. The cells in the lining are known as squamous cells, and may therefore be affected by squamous cell carcinomas.
Like other types of cancer, these diseases can spread to other areas of the body and lead to serious complications. Prompt, thorough treatment is essential in restoring the health and overall well-being of patients with head and neck cancer.
Causes of Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck cancers are most often caused by tobacco and alcohol use, especially cancer of the oral cavity and larynx. Other factors that may lead to cancer include sun exposure, HPV, and radiation exposure. Tobacco use is linked to 85 percent of head and neck cancers.
Many of these factors can be reduced or eliminated through simple life changes. Quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol can reduce your risk of developing head and neck cancer or slow the disease from progressing further. Patients who are at an increased risk for developing head and neck cancer should be screened regularly to detect any problems as quickly as possible. Early detection can significantly improve the effectiveness of treatment.
Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer
Fortunately, many people with head and neck cancers experience symptoms right away that lead to an early diagnosis of the condition. Symptoms of head and neck cancers vary depending on the type of cancer, but may include:
While these symptoms may be caused by a wide range of conditions, it is important for patients to seek prompt medical attention at the first sign of symptoms
Diagnosing Head and Neck Cancer
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your doctor may perform an endoscopy, blood and urine test, imaging test and biopsy, along with a complete physical examination. In order to confirm a diagnosis of cancer, a tissue sample (biopsy) needs to be examined under a microscope.
Once cancer has been diagnosed, it is important to determine the stage of the disease and whether or not it has spread to other areas of the body. Staging usually involves imaging procedures and can help determine the best treatment approach for each individual patient.