A number of malignant tumors developing in or around the mouth, throat, sinuses, nose, and larynx are referred to as cancer in the head and neck. This is the region where we find the flat cells also known as the squamous cells. Right beneath this lining is the epithelium is the mucosa which is a layer of moist tissue. If the cancer is found only in the squamous layer of cells, it is known as carcinoma. In case this cancer originates in the salivary glands, the tumor will be called adenocarcinoma or mucoepidermoid carcinoma.
The diagnosis is done firstly by conducting a screening as part of your routine dental exam. In specific terms, your dentists will try to find out the irregular changes of tissues in your oral cavity, neck, face, and head, or feel for lumps at the same areas. During mouth examination, he will look for discoloured tissues or sores along with checking for any indications as mentioned previously. There may be the need of a biopsy to determine a suspicious looking area. The treatment methods available for head and neck cancer are the same as any other cancers. Firstly, it involves a surgery to remove the cancerous growth of cells, followed by a chemotherapy or radiation therapy to fully remove the remaining cancerous cells.
After proper consultation with your doctor, you will be guided towards a specialist like an otolaryngologist, maxillofacial surgeon, plastic surgeon, radiation oncologist, and medical oncologist to treat this disease. These people specialize in surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy related to mouth cancer. Other health care professional include a speech pathologist, dentist, mental health counselor, audiologist and nutritionist.
Surgical treatment for the removal of cancerous cells is the most common treatment for head and neck cancer. At times, the surgeon removes the lymph nodes and other tissues from the neck as well. Patients may also have a combination treatment of surgery along with radiation therapy. Radiation therapy or radiotherapy is a kind of local therapy which affects the treated area only. It is used alone for patients who are unable to afford surgery or for treating small tumors. In some cases it is done before surgery to shrink the tumor by killing cancer cells. In order to treat head and neck cancer there are two types of radiation treatment used. These are external and internal radiation (implant radiation). External radiation comes from a machine and internal radiation comes from radioactive materials put in thin plastic and needles which are directly placed in the tissue. Chemotherapy is the usage of anticancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. This systematic therapy is associated with the drugs to enter the bloodstream and affect the cancerous cells throughout the body. It is usually given by injection.
A patient who has a small tumor or is unable to tolerate or afford surgery is eligible for radiation therapy. Someone with locally advanced disease is eligible for surgery.
A patient who is older than 75 years is not eligible for the treatment. Also, pregnant women are not eligible.
Side effects of the treatment include soreness, pain or redness in the mouth and throat, loss of senses of taste, hoarseness, and skin colour change on the head and neck as tanned or sunburnt which eventually fades away.
It is very important that the patient receives proper follow-up care after the treatment. Even if it seems that the cancer has been completely destroyed or removed, the disease has a tendency to return because of the undetected cancerous cells remaining in the body. Recurrence of cancer cells is regularly monitored by the doctor. Your doctor will recommend you to keep investigating your mouth and come for screening exams regularly. He may do a blood test, x-rays or a complete physical examination. Doctors also urge you to strictly stop the usage of tobacco and consumption of alcohol to prevent recurrence of head and neck cancer.
It may take more than a year depending upon the severity of the disease. Side effects may still remain.
The cost of treatment ranges from Rs. 3,00,000 to Rs. 3,50,000.
No the results of the treatment for head and neck cancer are not permanent as the cancer cells can return in case they were not detected earlier.
Alternative treatments for head and neck cancer include turmeric (curcuma longa), mint, thyme, basil and green tea. The usage of these herbs will provide benefit in easing the symptoms associated with head and neck cancer.