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Head and Neck Cancer - What To Know About It?

Written and reviewed by
Dr. Harpreet Singh 93% (195 ratings)
MD - Radiation Oncology, MBBS, Diploma in Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases (DTCD)
Oncologist, Delhi  •  36 years experience
Head and Neck Cancer - What To Know About It?

Cancer can occur in any part of the body. In this article, we will discuss head and neck cancer, which occurs when cells in these regions grow abnormally. Cancer cells that grow in the head and neck can spread to other parts of the body as well, and there are reported cases in which head and neck cancer has spread to the lungs.

Symptoms for Suspicion of cancer 

  1. Non-healing sore or ulcer
  2. Neck lymph nodes, 
  3. Hoarseness of voice or difficulty in swallowing
  4. Red or white patch in the mouth.
  5. Lump, bump, or mass in the head or neck area, with or without pain.
  6. Persistent sore throat.
  7. Foul mouth odor not explained by hygiene. 

Common Types of Head and Neck Cancer-
The common type of head and neck cancer is called carcinoma, and it can start in the nose, mouth and throat. Lymphoma cancers affect the immune system of the neck and head and can spread to other body parts.

Tests that are done for diagnosing head and neck cancer
A patient may feel some pain in the head and neck region. At first, the patient might visit an ENT specialist in order to diagnose the reason for the pain. In case the ENT specialist is not able to relate the issue with common causes of such pain, he refers the patient to a head and neck specialist. Then the first thing that the doctor will check for is the growth of any lymph nodes. Special fiber optics, mirror and lights are used for the examination of the head and neck as some regions are not easily visible.

A panendoscopy is performed on patients to confirm the growth and spread of cancer cells. This test is done under anesthesia and may need to be performed in an operation theater. Thin tubes called scopes are used for viewing the tissues and the doctor may take a sample for a biopsy test.

A biopsy test confirms whether the growth of cells is cancerous or not, and if it has spread. The biopsy will tell us whether the growth is cancerous or not. For staging of cancer, we do scans which may be CT, MRI or PET CT. A scan helps the doctors to understand whether the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs. The barium swallow method is used to check if there are cancer cells in the throat.

How serious can head and neck cancer be?
There are various stages of head and neck cancer, and they are classified based on the seriousness of the growth. Normally, cancer starts at stage 1 and could progress till stage 4 if left untreated and undiagnosed. Different stages require different types of treatment and medications. Stage 1 and 2 usually involve radiotherapy or surgery whereas stage 3 and 4 would require radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy. Also, avoid tobacco and alcohol for prevention.

One should always consult a doctor for diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancer, and must follow the advice of the doctor for a speedy recovery. In case you have a concern or query you can always consult an expert & get answers to your questions!

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