Head and neck cancer is the growth of cancerous cells in the mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck. Some head and neck cancer also begins in salivary glands also. But they are uncommon. As there are many types of cells in salivary glands there are a good number of salivary gland cancers. Head and neck cancer can be categorized into different categories based on the area where the cancer is located.
1) Oral cavity: Oral cavity includes the lips, the gums, first two-third portion of the tongue, the floor of the mouth, the small area of gum in the rear side of the wisdom teeth and the hard palate.
2) Pharynx: Pharynx is a hollow tube which starts behind the nose and ends at the esophagus. It consists of three parts. They are the hypopharynx, the oropharynx and the nasopharynx. The part of the pharynx behind the nose is nasopharynx. The part including the soft palate and back of the mouth and forming the middle part of the pharynx is known as oral pharynx and the lower part of the pharynx is known as hypopharynx.
3) Larynx: Larynx which is also known as voice box is situated in the throat. Vocal cords are inside the larynx. Epiglottis is a small piece of tissue which covers the windpipe and prevents the food from entering the air passage.
4) Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity: Paranasal sinuses cavity is the cavity air filled spaces nasal cavity. Nasal cavity is the space inside the nose.
5) Salivary gland: Salivary glands produce saliva and are situated in inside the mouth.
Causes of head and neck cancer
Use of tobacco is the major cause of cancers in the head and neck area. About 75% of the head and neck cancers are caused by the misuse of tobacco. Use of tobacco combined with alcoholic habits will increase the susceptibility to the cancer. Use of paan, preserved foods etc has a very significant role in the formation of head and neck cancer. Poor oral hygiene and missing teeth have been found to cause head and neck cancers. Hereditary factors also play a key role in the formation of head and neck cancers.
Diagnostic procedure starts with the evaluation of medical history. This is followed by physical examination. Based on the symptoms different diagnostic tests which may include X-ray, CT scan, MRI scan etc. A sample tissue will be examined under microscope to confirm the diagnosis. If cancer is diagnosed your doctor will then try it to understand the stage of the cancer. Staging is a process conducted in an operation room under local anesthesia to ascertain whether the cancer has spread to the nearby area and if so the extent and details of the area where the cancer has already spread.
Treatment options for head and neck cancer are very much dependent upon many factors like the area and the stage of the cancer, age and general health of the patient etc. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, a combination of these three methods and surgical removal are the available treatment options for head and neck cancer.