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Head & Neck Cancer

Cancer that arises in the head or neck region (in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, or larynx). Head and neck cancers account for approximately 3 to 5% of all cancers in the United States. These cancers are more common in men and people over 50. 85% of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use. People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk for developing these cancers.

Certain risk factors for head and neck cancer include:

  • Oral cavity: Sun exposure; possibly human papillomavirus infection
  • Salivary glands: Radiation to the head and neck
  • Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity: Certain industrial exposures, such as wood or nickel dust inhalation
  • Nasopharynx: Asian/Chinese ancestry, Epstein-Barr virus infection, occupational exposure to wood dust and consumption of certain preservatives or salted foods
  • Oropharynx: Poor oral hygiene, human papilomavirus infection, and use of mouthwash that has a high alcohol content are possible risk factors
  • Hypopharynx: Pummer-Vinson syndrome, a rare disorder that results from iron and other nutritional deficiencies.
  • Larynx: Exposure to airborne particles of asbestos

Symptoms that have been associated with this type of cancer include a lump or sore that does not heal, a sore throat that doesn’t go away, difficulty swallowing, and change or hoarseness in the voice. To find the cause of the symptoms a doctor evaluates your medical history, performs a physical exam, and orders diagnostic tests. Tests may include endoscopy, lab tests, x-rays, CT scan, MRI, PET scan, and a biopsy to remove tissue from suspicious area for a pathologist to examine to determine diagnosis. If the diagnosis is cancer the doctor will then need to know the stage or extent of the disease to see if it has spread. This may involve x-rays, lab tests, and examination under anesthesia in the operating room.

Once diagnosis and stage are confirmed your doctor will go over treatment options with you. The treatment plan depends on the location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer and the person’s age and general health. Treatment options consist of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. A plan that is best for you will then be decided upon by you and your healthcare team.

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