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Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer

Most people are familiar with breast, lung, and colon cancers due to their common occurrences and nationally publicized awareness and education. However, references to Head and Neck Cancer are on the rise. Touro Family Medicine physician, Dr. Meredith Maxwell, is here to explain Head and Neck Cancer and the signs and symptoms we need to be on the lookout for.

What Is Head and Neck Cancer?

Simply, head and neck cancer is the term used for many cancers that start in the head and neck region, including the mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lymph nodes in the neck, and salivary glands.

Head and neck cancers are diagnosed more often in adults older than age 50, and they’re twice as common in men than in women. Still, these cancers account for only about 4% of cancers in the U.S.

Common types of Head and Neck Cancer are:

  • Cancer of the hypopharynx, or hypopharyngeal cancer
  • Cancer of the nasopharynx, or nasopharyngeal cancer
  • Cancer of the oropharynx, or oropharyngeal cancer
  • Cancer of the paranasal sinus
  • Cancer of the nasal cavity
  • Cancer of the salivary gland
  • What are the signs and symptoms that people should watch out for?

Many of the symptoms of head and neck cancer could be caused by other, less serious conditions. Still, it’s a good idea to contact your healthcare provide if you experience any of the following:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • A sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • A lump or sore that does not heal
  • Hoarseness or a change in your voice

Like many cancers, head and neck cancers are often curable if found early.

How is head and neck cancer diagnosed?

Diagnosing head and neck cancer starts with your healthcare provider asking questions about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. Your healthcare provider will also give you a physical exam. You may also see an ear, nose, and throat specialist, called an ENT or otolaryngologist or a head and neck surgeon.

Tests used to diagnose Head and Neck Cancer include:

  • Endoscopy
  • Panorex films
  • Barium swallow
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Biopsy
  • Blood tests

How can we reduce our risk?

You can’t change your age or sex, but most risk factors for head and neck cancer are things you can control:

  • Avoid tobacco. Tobacco use is the single largest risk factor for head and neck cancer. People who smoke, chew tobacco, dip snuff, or smoke pipes have a much higher risk than people who do not.
  • Limit alcohol. Drinking a lot and drinking often increases your risk. If you drink heavily and smoke, your risk is many times higher.
  • Eat a healthy diet. A diet that is low in fruits and vegetables might increase your risk for head and neck cancer. Eating a lot of processed or salt-cured meat can also increase risk.
  • Mind your mouth. A history of gum disease and tooth loss may put you at higher risk. So can anything that irritates your gums and cheeks, such as dentures that don't fit well.

If you or someone you know needs a primary care provider, you can visit or call 504-897-7777