The term “head and neck cancer” encompasses various malignancies that affect the head and neck regions of the body. These malignancies account for around 3% to 5% of all cancers. Men and people over the age of 50 are more likely to get head and neck cancer. These malignancies are easily prevented and treated if found early. Tobacco and alcohol use have been the most common causes of head and neck cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is also a significant risk factor for specific head and neck cancers.
Areas of extremely cautiousness
Head and neck cancers cover many disorders, including cancers of the throat, lips, nose, mouth, larynx, and salivary glands. Men are approximately thrice more likely than women to develop them, and the majority of them are over 50 when they have been initially diagnosed.
Most of these malignancies start with squamous cells that line the wet surfaces inside the head and neck. These malignancies can also occur in the salivary glands, albeit cancer in salivary glands is uncommon.
However, despite their location, brain, eye, and thyroid cancers are not commonly referred to as head and neck cancers.
Causes of head and neck cancer
The following factors can increase a person’s risk of acquiring head and neck cancer:
- Tobacco and alcohol consumption: The two most prominent risk factors for head and neck cancers, particularly malignancies of the oral cavity, hypopharynx, and larynx, are alcohol and cigarette use. People who use both nicotine and alcohol are more likely to get these cancers than people who just use one of the two. Tobacco and alcohol use are the leading causes of squamous cell carcinomas of the mouth and voice box in the head and neck.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): Infection with cancer-causing strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV type 16, is linked to oropharyngeal cancer of the tonsils and base of the tongue. Oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV infection are reportedly rising, while cancers caused by other causes are declining. Chronic HPV infection is responsible for almost three-quarters of all oropharyngeal malignancies. Although HPV can be found in other head and neck cancers, it appears to be the sole cause of oropharyngeal cancer. The reasons behind this are unclear.
- Betel quid(paan): The consumption of paan (betel quid) has been linked to a higher risk of oral cancer.
- Industrial exposure: Nasopharyngeal cancer is linked to chronic exposure to wood dust. Specific occupational exposures, such as asbestos and synthetic fibers, have been linked to larynx cancer, but the evidence for this link is still ambiguous. Wood dust, nickel dust, and formaldehyde exposure in the workplace are linked to cancer of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.
- Radiation exposure: Exposure to radiation increases the chance of developing salivary gland cancer.
- Epstein-Barr virus: Nasopharyngeal cancer and cancer of the salivary glands are both linked to Epstein-Barr virus infection.
- Underlying genetic disorders: Some genetic defects, such as Fanconi anemia, trigger the development of precancerous lesions and cancers forming early stages of life.
Symptoms of head and neck cancer
Head and neck cancer symptoms may also include a lump in the neck or a sore inside the mouth or the throat that does not heal and may be painful, a sore throat that does not go away, trouble in swallowing, and trade or trade hoarseness in the voice. These symptoms can also be caused as a result of other, less critical conditions. Any of these symptoms should be investigated further by a doctor. Consult our experts at University Cancer Centers for proper diagnosis. Head and neck cancers can cause the following symptoms:
- Oral cavity: Unusual bleeding or discomfort in the mouth; a growth or swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become unpleasant; a white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or mouth lining; growth or bump of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
- Pharynx: Pain while swallowing; persistent pain in the neck or throat; pain or ringing in the ears; or difficulties having to hear
- Larynx: Breathing or speaking challenges, swallowing pain, or earache are all possible symptoms.
Nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses:
- Blockages in the sinuses just do not go away.
- Any Chronic sinus infections that do not respond to antibiotic therapy.
- Bleeding through the nose.
- Recurrent headaches, edema, or other eye issues.
- Pain in the upper teeth.
- Denture troubles.
- Salivary glands: Swelling below the chin or around the jawbone, lack of sensation or paralysis of the facial muscles, or persistent soreness in the face, neck, and chin.
How can you lower your likelihood of getting head and neck cancer?
People at risk of developing head and neck cancers, particularly those who consume tobacco, should consult with their doctor about strategies to quit smoking to lower their risk.
HPV-related head and neck cancers can be reduced by avoiding oral HPV infection. The Food and Drug Administration gave the HPV vaccine Gardasil 9 rapid approval in June 2020 to prevent oropharyngeal, and other head and neck cancers caused by HPV strains 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 in individuals aged anywhere between 9 to 45.
Even though there is no standard or routine screening test for head and neck cancers, doctors might examine the oral cavity for cancer symptoms during a regular checkup.
Diagnosis of head and neck cancer
The essence of early detection in the treatment of head and neck cancer cannot be overstated. During a routine examination, about three-quarters of all head and neck cancers are easily spotted. Your doctor will examine you and request screening tests.
These may include the following:
- A physical examination of the mouth, nose, neck, throat, and tongue is performed. In addition, your doctor can also examine your neck, lips, gums, and cheeks for lumps.
- Endoscopy: Your doctor examines your voice box, throat, nasal cavity, or other places where you’re having problems with symptoms with a thin, lighted tube called an endoscope.
- Lab tests: Blood, urine, and other body samples are tested in the laboratory.
- X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans of the head and neck are used to create images of the areas inside your head and neck. Your doctor will decide which tests are most appropriate for evaluating your symptoms.
- Biopsy: Your doctor removes tissue for microscopic examination by a pathologist. This is the only reliable way of determining whether or not someone has cancer. This is typically done with a needle in the clinic with local anesthesia.
Treatment of head and neck cancer
Identifying the stage of cancer is the first step in treating head and neck cancer. Cancers in stages I and II are tiny and haven’t spread beyond their initial site. However, in most cases, they can be cured.
Stage III and IV cancers are usually giant tumors that have spread to adjacent lymph nodes. They typically require more extensive therapy and have a lower probability of being cured, but most can be cured. Metastatic tumors, or tumors that have migrated to other areas of the body, are typically incurable, but they can be treated to relieve the symptoms.
Your treatment plan will be determined by your stage, as well as your age, general health, and tumor location.
Radiation therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy are the three basic approaches to treating head and neck cancers. Some patients may be subjected to all three therapies.
- Surgery: Surgeons will eliminate the cancerous cells as well as a margin of healthy tissue around them. If cancer has advanced to the lymph nodes in the neck, they may be removed as well. Surgery of the head and neck can alter a patient’s look and ability to chew, communicate, and swallow. Patients might require reconstructive surgery and speech therapy as a result of these factors.
- Radiation therapy: The application of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells is known as radiation therapy. You can accomplish this with the help of a machine located close to the body. Side effects of radiation therapy include blisters or irritation in the treated area, trouble swallowing or taste, saliva loss, decreased appetite, and nausea. Please inform your doctor in case you experience any adverse effects so that they can advise you on how to manage them effectively.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is an anti-cancer medication to kill cancer cells all over the body. It’s generally performed for patients with advanced-stage head and neck cancers. Possible side effects are mouth sores, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, weariness, rash, joint discomfort, and hair loss. Discuss with your doctor how to deal with these side effects.
Side effects about head and neck cancer treatment
Surgery for head and neck cancers can hinder an individual’s ability to chew, swallow, or speak. After surgery, the patient’s appearance may change, and the face and neck may swell. However, with time, the swelling subsides typically. If lymph nodes are removed, the lymph flow in the area where they were taken may be slowed, and lymph may gather in the tissues (a condition known as lymphedema), producing extra swelling that could continue a long time.
Lymphedema of the head and neck can be apparent or hidden. It can usually be reversed, improved, or decreased if caught early enough. Patients with untreated lymphedema are more likely to develop problems such as cellulitis or a tissue infection. If left untreated, cellulitis can become hazardous and cause further swallowing or breathing problems.
Since nerves have been cut during a laryngectomy (removal of the voice box) or other neck surgery, the neck and throat areas may feel numb.
Patients receiving radiation therapy may experience adverse effects such as redness, irritation, and mouth sores either during or shortly after treatment. Radiation can also trigger earaches and loss of taste, which can potentially reduce appetite and impact health. Inflammation or drooping of the skin under the chin and changes in the texture of the skin may be seen by patients. Patients may also experience jaw stiffness or cannot open their mouth as wide as they could before therapy.
Many patients will endure long-term adverse effects from surgery or radiation therapy, such as trouble swallowing, speech impairment, and skin abnormalities, which will resolve gradually over time. However, any side effects must be reported to the doctor, and strategies for dealing with them should be discussed.
Rehabilitation or support options available for patients with head and neck cancers
The goal of head and neck cancer treatment is to keep the disease under control. However, doctors are equally concerned with preserving as much function as feasible in the damaged areas and assisting the patient in returning to normal activities as soon as possible after therapy. So this procedure necessitates rehabilitation. The extent of the ailment and the treatment that a patient has undergone determine the goals of rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation might include physical therapy, dietary counseling, speech therapy, and/or understanding how to care for a stoma, depending on the location of cancer and the type of treatment. A stoma is a hole in the larynx through which a patient breathes following a laryngectomy.
A patient may require reconstructive and plastic surgery to restore bones or tissues, especially with mouth cancer. However, reconstructive surgery may not always be viable due to radiation therapy damage to the remaining tissue. If reconstructive surgery is not a possibility, a prosthodontist may be able to create a prosthesis (an artificial dental and/or facial element) to restore proper swallowing, speech, and look.
Speech therapy might also be required for patients who have difficulty speaking after treatment. A speech therapist will usually visit a patient to schedule therapy and teach speech exercises or alternative techniques of communication. Even after the patient gets back home, speech treatment is routinely continued.
Need for follow-up care
Eating might be difficult after treatment for head and neck cancer. After surgery, some patients receive nutrients straight into their veins, while others require a feeding tube until they can eat independently. A feeding device is a flexible plastic tube inserted into the stomach through the nose or an abdominal incision.
Regular follow-up care is essential after treatment to ensure that cancer has not returned or that a new primary cancer has not developed. Head and neck cancers that aren’t caused by HPV are more likely to return following treatment. Medical examinations may involve examinations of the stoma if one has been developed and the mouth, neck, and throat, depending on the kind of malignancy. Regular dental examinations may also be required.
A comprehensive physical examination, blood tests, x-rays, and computed tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be performed from time to time by the doctor. The doctor could monitor thyroid and pituitary gland function, especially if the head or neck has been treated with radiation. The doctor is also likely to advise patients to quit smoking. Chain-smoking by a patient with head and neck cancer may significantly reduce the treatment effectiveness and increase the risk of secondary cancer.
Patients and their doctors should carefully consider treatment alternatives. They should talk about how each form of treatment will influence their appearance, speech, eating, and breathing and how each treatment would affect their quality of life. University Cancer Centers guarantees a welcoming environment for all and is dedicated to assisting those in need. So, don’t panic and get your appointment scheduled today and get diagnosed by our healthcare experts.