Head and Neck Cancer: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Head and Neck Cancer: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Bajaj Finserv Health
October 27, 20214 mins read

Key Takeaways

  • Around 30-40% of all cancers in India are head and neck cancer
  • Signs of head and neck cancer include symptoms of oral cavity
  • Head and neck cancer treatment depends on the type and stage

One of the most common types of cancer around the world is head and neck cancer. According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Cancer, around 30% to 40% of all cancers in India are in the head and neck region [1]. Smoking and chewing tobacco are the major causes of such cancers. Head and neck cancer covers abnormal growth of cells in the mouth, throat, voice box, nose, and salivary glands.

These cancers generally take place in the squamous cells in the soft surfaces of the head and neck. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) constitutes over 90% of all head and neck cancer. Read on to understand head and neck cancer signs and symptoms and treatment options.

Additional Read: 8 Major Common Types of Childhood Cancer You Need to Know About

Head & Neck cancerSigns of Head and Neck Cancer

Oral Cavity Symptoms

  • Tooth loss
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth pain
  • Mouth ulcers
  • A lump in the neck
  • Swelling of the jaw
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden loss of weight
  • Unusual bleeding in the mouth
  • White or red patches in the mouth

Pharynx Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Nosebleeds
  • Double vision
  • Voice disorder
  • Fluid in the ear
  • Facial numbness
  • Lumps in the neck
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Hearing loss on one side
  • Blocked nose on one side
  • Pain in the neck or throat
  • Ear pain or hearing difficulty
  • Buzzing or ringing in the ears

Larynx Symptoms

  • Ear pain
  • Voice disorder
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing persistently
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Breathing or speaking difficulty

Paranasal Sinuses and Nasal Cavity

  • Congestion
  • Nosebleeds
  • Hearing loss
  • Facial numbness
  • Denture problems
  • Bulging in one eye
  • Frequent headaches
  • Pain in the upper teeth
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • A reduced sense of smell
  • Double vision, loss of vision
  • Leaking of mucus from the nose
  • Draining of mucus into the throat
  • Swelling, pain in the eye, or watery eyes
  • Lump on the face, nose, or inside the mouth

Salivary Glands

  • Facial changes
  • Swelling near the jaw
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Facial numbness or pain
  • Weakness in facial muscles
  • Pain in the face, chin, or neck
  • Decreased mobility of the jaw

types of cancer

Head and Neck Cancer Causes

Alcohol and Tobacco

The use of alcohol and tobacco including secondhand smoke are significant risk factors for head and neck cancer. People who consume alcohol and tobacco are at a greater risk of developing an oral cavity, hypopharynx, and voice box cancer.

Betel Nut

In India, the consumption of betel quid (paan) is quite common and betel nut plays an important role in its preparation. However, they can put you at high risk of developing oral cancers.

Radiation Exposure

Exposure to radiation can lead to developing cancerous cells in your salivary glands.

Ultraviolet Light Exposure

Direct exposure to ultraviolet light puts you at risk of head and neck cancer.

HPV Infection

The cancer-causing type of human papillomavirus (HPV) [2] can cause oropharyngeal cancers [3] involving tonsils or the base of the tongue. Around 75% of all oropharyngeal cancers are a result of chronic HPV infection [4].

Occupational Exposure

Exposure to certain types of jobs also poses a threat of head and neck cancer. For instance, people working in the construction, metal, ceramic, logging, textile, and food industries are at risk of voice box cancer. Similarly, industrial exposure to wood dust or nickel dust can cause paranasal sinuses and nasal cavities.

Epstein-Barr Virus Infection

Nasopharyngeal cancer and salivary glands cancer can occur due to Epstein-Barr virus infection [5].

Ancestry and Genetic Disorders

Certain ancestry can be a risk factor for cancer. Genetic disorders, for instance Fanconi anemia, can also increase the chances of developing cancers early in life [6].

Head and Neck CancerHead and Neck Cancer Treatment

The treatment received for head and neck cancer depends on the type of cancer and its stage. Recommended procedures include head and neck surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these. However, there are certain side effects of these treatments such as swallowing difficulty, hearing loss, or pain in the mouth, throat, and neck [7].

Additional Read: How to Deal with Chemo Side Effects? Important Tips to Follow

In any type of cancer, an earlier diagnosis and treatment is vital. Avoid smoking tobacco, chewing betel nuts, and other unhealthy habits to prevent head and neck cancer. Consult a doctor if you observe any symptoms such as neck cancer lump or neck pain. Cancer can occur at any stage in life. Book an online doctor consultation on Bajaj Finserv Health if you are at risk and get immediate treatment.

Head and Neck Cancer: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment banner
  1. https://www.indianjcancer.com/article.asp?issn=0019-509X;year=2020;volume=57;issue=5;spage=1;epage=5;aulast=Prabhash
  2. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/hpv
  3. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12180-oropharyngeal-cancer
  4. https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/head-neck-fact-sheet#r13 5.
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/epstein-barr/about-ebv.html
  6. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000334.htm#:~:text=Fanconi%20anemia%20is%20a%20rare,syndrome%2C%20a%20rare%20kidney%20disorder.
  7. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/head-and-neck-cancer/types-treatment
  8. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/head-and-neck-cancer#treatment
  9. https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/head-neck-fact-sheet
  10. https://www.medicinenet.com/head_and_neck_cancer/article.htm#what_are_common_symptoms_of_head_and_neck_cancers

Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.

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