Cancer has affected millions of people around the world. Most people, from children to the elderly, have died as a result of the disease, but many have recovered by fighting with all their might.
Over the years, there have been various types of cancer that affect different parts of the body. Lung and breast cancer are the most common, while Kapiso Sarcoma and Endocrine Cancer are the least common.
Today, we’ll learn about another type of cancer that, while common, is often overlooked.
Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the tissues of the head and neck. The oral cavity (mouth), throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), nasal cavity, sinuses, salivary glands, and thyroid gland are all included. Cancers of the head and neck can also affect the lymph nodes in the neck.
These cancers can affect a variety of structures that are responsible for vital functions like breathing, speaking, swallowing, and facial appearance. Individuals over the age of 50 are more likely to be diagnosed, and certain risk factors, such as tobacco and alcohol use, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and exposure to certain chemicals and substances, can increase the likelihood of developing head and neck cancer.
Depending on the location and stage of the cancer, head and neck cancers can cause a variety of symptoms. Persistent hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, a lump or sore that does not heal, pain or discomfort in the mouth or throat, changes in voice, persistent nasal congestion or sinus problems, and unexplained weight loss are some of the symptoms.
Types of Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck cancer refers to cancers that develop in the tissues and structures of the head and neck. The following are the most common types of head and neck cancer, with a brief description of each:
- Oral Cavity Cancer: This type of cancer develops in the oral cavity, which includes the lips, tongue, gums, inner cheek lining, floor of the mouth, and hard and soft palate.
- Oropharyngeal cancer: This Cancer develops in the oropharynx, which is the middle part of the throat located behind the mouth. It includes the base of the tongue, tonsils, soft palate, and throat walls.
- Nasopharyngeal Cancer: Nasopharyngeal cancer develops in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat, located behind theNasal Cavity and below the soft palate.
- Hypopharyngeal cancer: This affects the hypopharynx, which is the lower part of the throat that connects to the oesophagus. This type of cancer is uncommon, but it is highly aggressive.
- Laryngeal Cancer: This type of cancer develops in the larynx, also known as the voice box. It can affect the vocal cords, the epiglottis, or other laryngeal structures involved in voice production and airway protection.
- Cancer of the Sinus and Nasal Cavity: Cancer of the sinuses and nasal cavity develops in the hollow spaces around the nose and within the nasal cavity. It frequently manifests as chronic sinusitis, nasal congestion, and facial pain or pressure.
- Salivary Gland Cancer: Cancer of the salivary glands can develop in any of the salivary glands located in or near the mouth. Tumours can develop in the parotid glands, submandibular glands, or sublingual glands, which produce saliva.
- Thyroid Cancer: While thyroid cancer is technically not a head and neck cancer, it is sometimes included in this category due to its proximity to the neck. It is caused by the thyroid gland, which is in charge of producing hormones that regulate metabolism.
Each type of head and neck cancer has unique characteristics, such as risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these modalities may be used to treat head and neck cancer. Treatment options are determined by a variety of factors, including the stage of cancer, location, and the individual’s overall health.
Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer
Head and neck cancer can cause a variety of symptoms, which vary depending on the cancer’s location and stage. Here are some of the most common symptoms of head and neck cancer:
- A Sore Throat: A persistent or chronic sore throat that does not improve over time is a possible symptom of head and neck cancer. This achy sensation may be accompanied by discomfort or pain when swallowing.
- Swallowing Difficulties: Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is a symptom of head and neck cancer. This symptom may worsen over time and impair your ability to eat or drink normally.
- Change in Voice: Hoarseness or other changes in voice that last for a long time may indicate the presence of a tumor affecting the vocal cords or nearby structures.
- Cough: A persistent cough that does not go away can be a sign of head and neck cancer, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms like throat pain or difficulty swallowing.
- Lump or Swelling: A lump, swelling, or thickening in the neck, mouth, or throat may be indicative of the presence of a tumor. Any unexplained masses or swellings must be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
- Ear Pain: Cancers of the head and neck that affect the throat, tonsils, or other nearby structures can result in referred pain to the ears. Unknown or persistent ear pain should be investigated to rule out underlying causes.
- Unexplained Weight Loss: Head and neck cancer can cause significant, unexplained weight loss. This weight loss could be due to difficulty eating due to pain or swallowing issues.
- Persistent Bad Breath: Chronic bad breath that does not improve with oral hygiene practices may be a sign of head and neck cancer.
- Changes in Facial appearance: Advanced head and neck cancers can sometimes cause visible changes in facial appearance, such as asymmetry, facial numbness, or difficulty moving the facial muscles.
It is important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cancer. However, if any of these symptoms persist for more than two weeks or cause significant discomfort or concern, it is best to seek medical attention for further evaluation and appropriate diagnosis.
Treatment and Diagnosis:
The diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancer require a multidisciplinary approach that may include oncologists, surgeons, radiation therapists, and pathologists. Here’s an overview of the head and neck cancer diagnosis and treatment process:
Medical History and Physical Exam: Your healthcare provider will go over your medical history, including any risk factors and symptoms you may be experiencing. They will conduct a thorough physical exam, paying special attention to the head and neck region.
Imaging Tests: To assess the size, location, and spread of the tumor, imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) scans may be ordered.
Biopsy: A biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose head and neck cancer. A pathologist examines a small sample of tissue removed from the suspicious area under a microscope to determine whether cancer cells are present.
Staging: It is a method of determining the extent of a cancer and guiding treatment decisions. It entails determining the size of the tumor, the involvement of lymph nodes, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
The treatment of head and neck cancer is determined by factors such as the patient’s type, stage, location, and overall health. Among the treatment options available are:
Surgery: The tumor and surrounding tissues are removed during surgery. The extent of surgery is determined by the cancer’s size, location, and spread. To restore function and appearance, reconstructive surgery may be performed.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy kills cancer cells or shrinks tumors by using high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation. It can be used as a stand-alone therapy or in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to either kill or inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It is frequently used in conjunction with other treatments like surgery or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy can be used before surgery (neoadjuvant), after surgery (adjuvant), or to control the disease in advanced cases.
Palliative Care: Palliative care focuses on symptom relief, quality of life, and emotional and psychological needs of patients with advanced or incurable head and neck cancer.
It is critical to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in head and neck cancer to determine the most appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan for your specific case.
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Remember that you have the right to seek a second opinion. Allow us to guide you to the best possible outcomes. We can fight cancer with knowledge and determination if we work together.