Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer is a collective category of malignant tumors that develop in the cells of the head and neck region, including cancers of the mouth, nose, throat, lymph nodes, and more. This group of cancers originate in squamous cells, the cells that line moist, mucus-producing surfaces inside the head and neck regions. Squamous cells are most commonly found in the following areas: oral cavity, larynx, pharynx, sinus and nasal cavities, and salivary glands. While younger people may be diagnosed with this cancer, most cases are found in adults over the age of 50 years.

Signs and symptoms may vary depending on the type or location of the tumor. In general, head and neck cancer may cause one or more of the following:

  • Change or hoarseness in voice
  • Detection of lump in the nose, neck, or throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Ear pain
  • Frequent nose bleeds
  • Headaches
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss

The exact underlying cause or causes of head and neck cancer are unknown but risk factors include heavy tobacco, alcohol use, infections with human papilloma virus (HPV), prior exposure to high doses of radiation, and genetic predisposition.

Treatment options typically depend on the type and stage of cancer, but include one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy