Head and Neck
Generally, cancer is caused when the healthy body cells continuously grow out of control and then gradually assume a mass shape known as a tumor. Besides, a tumor can be benign or cancerous. If a tumor is calcareous, it can be called malignant, which means that it can gradually grow and spread to other parts of your body while a benign tumor does not spread. Malignant tumors formed in or around the sinuses, larynx, throat or mouth can be described as “Head and neck cancer.” Most often, “Head and neck cancer” are squamous cell carcinomas in nature. Most often, this type of cancer starts with a squamous cell that’s flat where the thin layer of tissue on the surface of the affected area in the head and neck region. The moist layer tissue around the head and the neck is referred to as mucosa, while cancer cells can quickly form the lining around this moist area. Generally, cancers are known to be carcinoma in situ if the cancer is only found in the squamous layer of the cell. At the same time, it is also known as invasive squamous cell carcinoma if cancer has grown beyond the cell layer and moved into the deeper tissue. However, in a situation where the doctors have found it very difficult to trace and locate the origin of cancer, it can be termed cancer of unknown primary.
Furthermore, say the cancer was detected to start from the salivary glands, and then the tumor would often be categorized as adenocarcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma, or mucoepidermoid carcinoma. Based on research, it has been established that there are 5 main types of head and neck cancer, while each of these types of cancer is named based on the part of the body they developed. Although some other types of cancer can be found in the head and neck region, treatment and diagnosis are very different from the five major types.
Generally, the symptom that is accompanied by head and neck cancer might vary so greatly based on where cancer started from. Meanwhile, there are some general signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer which could include the following:
Mouth ulcer: when you notice that a broken area of your mouth skin has refused to heal up after proper treatment, it might be most likely to be a sign of oral cancer. Most people who are suffering from mouth cancer often have this symptom.
A noticeable lump in the Neck, Mouth or Jaw Region: One of the most common signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer is a lump in the jaw or the mouth, while the lips can host a lump as a sign. Thyroid cancer comes with a lump in the neck area, or an enlarged lymph node might cause it. If you notice one or more swollen lymph nodes in the neck region, that is the most common head and neck cancer symptom. Lumps that form and disappear again are not caused mainly by cancer as cancerous lumps form and increasingly get bigger gradually.
One of the salivary gland symptoms, which is a type of hand and neck cancer, is the pain and discomfort felt in the face that doesn’t go away after a long time.
Most people that have thyroid cancer sometimes complain about the pains and swelling in their neck region. However, sometimes, some small painless lumps can develop in the neck regions called thyroid nodules.
There might be increased difficulty opening your mouth if you suffer from a head and neck tumor connected to the bones and muscles or the nerves in your mouth. Although this feeling might not signify that you have cancer, it could also lead to serious health problems. Usually, people can easily open their mouth wide about the width of three fingers; however, if you notice that you are having difficulty opening your mouth wide, you consult with a doctor.
More so, another severe symptom of head and neck cancer is the difficulty of swallowing, which can make you experience a burning sensation in your mouth while chewing or swallowing food materials. Sometimes you might feel like food is stuck in your throat or feel that liquid is going through your airways while coughing.
Speech problems, sore throat and hearing loss
There is a high probability that you would experience ear pain and increased trouble breathing. More so, head and neck cancer can quickly cause significant discomfort and pain in your throat, while your voice box can also be affected. In addition, your voice most often sounds as if you have a cold and can easily have trouble pronouncing some words.
In the United States, based on statistics, there are about 70,000 Americans that are diagnosed with head and neck cancers. It is even believed that men are more likely to develop this type of cancer than women.
Laryngeal and Hypo Pharyngeal Cancer.
The voice box is commonly referred to as the larynx, and it is the tube-shaped organ located in the neck region which serves as the tube for swallowing, talking and breathing. It is also called the gullet, and it is located on top of the windpipe or the trachea. This type of cancer affects the larynx region, which could eventually affect your speech and the way you swallow food. In addition, early symptoms of this cancer can result in voice hoarseness, sore throat and other neck-related discomfort.
Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer.
This section of the head and neck region is the space between the nose and the air passage to the throat. It is a space that is filled with air. Paranasal sinus cancer affects this area of the mouth and often causes significant discomfort when the individual tries to talk. Most often, the risk factors of this include smoking, alcohol consumption and chewing of tobacco products.
The nasopharynx is the air passageway at the upper part of the throat behind the nose. This area of the mouth connected to the head can also be prone to cancer and affects the individual's breathing. It is widespread that the symptoms of this cancer occur as a lump or nodule and numbness in that area.
Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer.
The oral cavity generally comprises the mouth and the tongue, which also includes the middle of the throat and often the tip of your voice box. Oral cancer can significantly affect the mouth, tongue and throat.
Salivary Gland Cancer.
The salivary gland is responsible for producing saliva, which moisturizes your food. More so, the saliva contains enzymes that help soften and break down your meal for easier digestion and passage into the stomach. This cancer of the salivary gland can seriously impact the production of saliva and consequently affects your gums.
Other types of cancers can be found in the head and neck region; however, the way they are treated and diagnosed is quite different. Among this type of cancer are brain tumors, esophageal cancer, eye cancer, parathyroid cancer, sarcoma, and thyroid cancer.
Generally, the causes of head and neck cancer are majorly alcohol and tobacco use which does not leave out the smokeless tobacco items also. These are the foremost essential risk factors that cause head and neck cancer, especially the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and larynx. About 75 percent of the head and neck cancer that has been recorded is caused either by alcohol or by tobacco use. People that make use of both tobacco and alcohol are more at risk of head and neck cancer. However, it must be well understood that salivary gland cancer isn’t caused by the use of alcohol and tobacco contents.
Human papillomavirus is a risk factor that can cause cancer, primarily type 16, which contributes to the cause of cancers that involve the tonsils or the base of the tongue. The HPV infection is continually increasing while oropharyngeal cancers have been declining gradually. Some other risk factors that can cause head and neck cancer include:
Preserved or salted foods. During the early ages of childhood, consumption of some preserved or salted food can contribute to the risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer.
Poor Oral Hygiene: Another risk factor is missing teeth or poor oral hygiene, which is considered a weak risk factor for oral cancer. In addition, the use of content that contains high alcohol could be a possible cause of head and neck cancer; however, this hasn’t been medically proven.
Occupational Exposure: If you work in a wood dust factory, it can contribute to nasopharyngeal cancer. Other industrial exposures, including but not limited to fibers, asbestos can also increase the risk of larynx cancer. Aside from this, industrial exposure to nickel dust or formaldehyde is a risk factor for paranasal sinuses cancer.
Exposure to Radiation: if your head and neck are exposed to radiation, this could cause head and neck cancer if the amount of exposure isn’t controlled effectively.
Doctors employ many means to find and diagnose cancer disease in the hospital, while they can also conduct several tests to find out the severity of cancer, how far it has spread, and the best method they can use to treat this cancer. They often want to determine where cancer started from by using imaging tests to show the body pictures. Also, doctors can conduct tests to learn how best they can treat cancer and which treatment would be more effective among the diagnosis techniques. Most often biopsy is the best way for the doctors to quickly determine the area of the body that has been affected by cancer. This method is carried out by the doctor, where he/she takes a small sample of tissue into the laboratory for testing. However, in situations where the biopsy test isn’t achievable, there are other means to diagnose. Typically, doctors consider some factors to help determine which type of diagnostic test would be suitable to detect
- The signs and symptoms you are experiencing,
- The suspected cancer type,
- Your age and overall well being
- The previous medical reports you have.
The comprehensive medical history of patients is considered if any patients exhibit the signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer while taking note of all the risk factors that might cause cancer. Also, to be sure about the condition of the patients and correctly diagnose the head and neck cancer, the following test might be conducted.
Physical Examination and urine test: one of the most common and convenient ways a doctor might diagnose head and neck cancer is through physical examination. The doctor would try and feel any lump in the cheeks, lips, neck, and gum or around the neck. Additionally, the doctor would also check the throat, mouth, nose, tongue for any discoloration or abnormalities. To effectively inspect these close areas, the doctor would use a mirror and a light for a clearer view. Aside from the physical examination, blood and urine samples might be taken to help diagnose if the patient has cancer.
Endoscopy: An endoscope is a device that generates thin light, which doctors use to see inside the body of any patients suspected to have cancer. Most often, the patients are sedated, and the endoscope tube is gently inserted into the patient’s body through the nose. Sedation means administering a patient's drugs to make them more relaxed and calm or sometimes sleepy]. At the same time, the doctors inspect the esophagus and the head and neck region. Meanwhile, the examination that is carried out on the patient is referred to with a different name, based on the part of the body that was examined.
Molecular testing of the tumor: A lab test can be recommended by the doctors on the tumor sample to help identify the genes, constituents, proteins and other elements that formed the tumor. The results obtained from the laboratory test would be used to determine what method of treatment would be suitable for cancer.
Ultrasound: The use of ultrasound is another effective method of checking the picture of internal organs. Several other methods are used in diagnosing cancer in patients, including Panoramic radiograph, X-ray/barium swallow, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Bone scan, and Positron emission tomography (PET) or PET-CT scan.
Different treatment options can be employed to combat head and neck cancer by doctors specially trained in this line of duty. Majorly the three known common and effective ways of treating head and neck cancer are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. Primarily the method of treatments employed is surgery, radiation therapy or the combination of both treatment methods. Meanwhile, chemotherapy is often employed as an additional method to improve the treatment. However, the extent of the cancer disease can help the doctors determine if they would completely implement the three treatment modalities for a patient suffering from head and neck cancer.
Typically, patients with early-stage head and neck cancer can be treated with one treatment method, which could be either radiation therapy or surgery. In contrast, patients with advanced cancer are mostly treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Meanwhile, based on the clinical scenario, patients might be treated with surgery and followed by radiation therapy while also implementing chemotherapy.
If the treatment plan is radiation therapy for primary cancer, the same is implemented for head and neck cancer. Also, another critical treatment that might be necessary after or before radiation therapy is carried out is surgery. Surgery is mainly performed on cancer patients to remove the lymph nodes in the neck, which might be necessary if the neck region has hosted an extensive node in the neck region that hasn’t been entirely eradicated by radiation therapy. If there is a need to remove a tumor through surgical operation, the doctor would indicate that radiation treatment should also be given after surgery. Although sometimes cancer might be too advanced, it would be unfeasible to remove the cancerous cells at the first surgical treatment. In situations like this, radiotherapy treatment is first employed to help shrink the tumor, and surgery might then be employed while radiotherapy might be the last treatment option. Based on research and studies, doctors have observed that chemotherapy given simultaneously as radiation therapy tends to be much more effective than if the radiation therapy is given before the chemotherapy. Occasionally, some other drugs can be prescribed to the patients if cancer has reached the advanced stage iv or v, and they can include cisplatin (Platinol) and Cetuximab (Erbitux). Occasionally, other drugs may include fluorouracil (5-FU, Adrucil), carboplatin (Paraplatin), and paclitaxel (Taxol). However, the chemotherapy treatment can be administered in different ways as prescribed by the doctor. It might vary from low daily dose or moderately weekly dose or possibly a higher dose three to four weeks.