Head and Neck Cancer

What are head and neck cancers?

Cancers that begin in the squamous cells inside the neck and head are collectively termed as ‘head and neck cancers’. They are also known as squamous cell craniomas of the head and neck. They are further classified as per the location of cancer:

  • Pharynx (throat

  • Salivary glands

  • Oral cavity

  • Larynx

  • Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity

Cancers that affect the brain, eyes, skin, scalp, muscles, bones of the head and neck and thyroid glands are not classified under head and neck cancers.

What are the causes of head and neck cancers?

The causes may vary according to the type and location of head and neck cancers. However, there are certain factors which may increase the risk for developing head and neck cancers. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Smoking

  • Excessive intake of alcohol

  • Poor oral hygiene/ oral health

  • Salted or preserved foods

  • Exposure from radiation

  • Ancestral causes

  • Betel quid or paan

What are the symptoms of head and neck cancers?

Though the symptoms may vary according to the type and location of cancer, there are certain symptoms which can be seen in people with head and neck cancers:

  • A sore or lump that does not go away

  • Sore throat

  • Hoarsness in the voice

  • Difficulty in swallowing

How are head and neck cancers diagnosed?

The doctor first examines the medical history, conducts a physical examinationa and analyses the signs and symptoms as the firs-line diagnostic procedure. The tests and examinations prescribed may vary according to the symptoms. The doctor will first examine the sample tissue under a microsope. Once confirming the disease, the doctor will suggest diagnostic procedures to identify the staging. The doctor may suggest an x-ray, imaging tests or other lab tests.

How are head and neck cancers treated?

The treatment may vary according to the type of disease, location, severity etc. It may also be influenced by the overall health of the individual. However, some of the common treatment options may include:

  • Radiation therapy

  • Targeted therapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Surgery

  • A combination of any of the above treatments