Head And Neck Cancers: All You Need To Know
Cancers occurring in the head and neck are called head and neck cancers. These cancers occur due to uncontrolled, abnormal proliferation of the cells. Head and neck cancers do not include the brain and the eye cancers.
Head and neck cancers happen in the squamous cells lining the mucosal surfaces of the head and neck. These cancers are otherwise also known as squamous cell carcinomas, and these cancers may also spread to the surrounding tissues and lymph nodes.
Types Of Head And Neck Cancers
There are various types of head and neck cancers. They are:
- Mouth cancer: It is also otherwise known as oral cancer. It occurs in the lips, tongue, gums, inner lining of the cheeks, the roof and the floor of the mouth (beneath the tongue).
- Oropharyngeal cancer: This cancer occurs in the oropharynx, which is the middle portion of the pharynx.
- Laryngeal cancer: This cancer occurs in the larynx. The larynx is otherwise also known as the voice box.
- Nasopharyngeal cancer: It is a cancer occurring in the nasopharynx tissues.
- Nasal cavity cancer: It is a cancer occurring at the back of the nose.
- Paranasal sinus cancer: This cancer occurs in the skull around the nose in the air-filled spaces.
- Salivary gland cancer: It is a cancer occurring in the cells of the salivary glands.
- Tonsil cancer: It is a cancer occurring in the tonsils.
Causes Of Head And Neck Cancers
Various risk factors are associated with the occurrence of head and neck cancers. However, the two most common risk factors are alcohol and tobacco. People consuming both alcohol and tobacco together are more prone to head and neck cancer compared to people who use either one of the two. Let’s see the various risk factors that cause head and neck cancers:
- Tobacco: Consumption of tobacco in any form like chewing tobacco, snuffing, and smoking can be a potential risk factor for cancers of the head and neck. Head and neck cancers might also develop due to secondhand smoking. Cancers of the oral cavity, hypopharynx, and the larynx (voice box) are common due to tobacco consumption.
- Alcohol consumption: According to The Cancer Institute, alcohol is one of the major risk factors leading to head and neck cancers. Squamous cell carcinomas in the mouth and the larynx are commonly seen in people consuming alcohol.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can increase the risk of head and neck cancers. There are various strains of HPV, among which HPV 16 is linked with the development of oropharyngeal cancers. HPV is transmitted through sexual contact.
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV): Infection of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is associated with the cancers of the salivary glands and the nasopharynx.
- Exposure to radiation: People with regular radiation exposure might develop cancer in the salivary glands.
- Occupational and environmental exposure: Excessive inhalation of wood dust may cause cancer in the oropharynx. Laryngeal cancer is said to be caused by exposure to asbestos and synthetic fibers from industries.
- Age: People over 40 are more prone to developing head and neck cancer.
- Poor oral and dental health: Poor oral and dental hygiene increases the risk of mouth cancer.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD): People suffering from GERD and LPRD are at risk of development of head and neck cancer due to excessive exposure to stomach acid in the throat and upper airways.
- Weak immunity: A weakened immune system makes a person vulnerable by increasing the risk of developing head and neck cancer.
- Dietary choices: A poor diet with excessive salt and preservatives and fewer vegetables and fruits intake are associated with an increased risk of head and neck cancer.
Symptoms Of Head And Neck Cancer
The various symptoms of head and neck cancers include the following:
- Unusual bleeding in the mouth
- Pain in the face and neck
- Trouble in speaking and swallowing
- Bad breath
- Pain and trouble hearing
- Unexplained weight loss
- Formation of a lump in the head or neck that may or may not be painful
- Forming of red or white patches in the mouth
- Changes in the voice
- Bleeding or discharge from the nose or nasal congestion
- Double vision and headache
- Feeling fatigued
- Loose teeth or tooth loss
Diagnosis Of Head And Cancers
The various diagnostic tests to detect head and neck cancers include:
- Physical examinations
- Blood and urine tests
- Endoscopic examination
- Radiological diagnostics such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, PETs, bone scans and ultrasound scans.
Head And Neck Cancer Treatments
The various treatments for head and neck cancers are:
Surgeries are often done alone or with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Surgeries like Laser surgery, Lymph node dissection, Reconstructive surgery, neck dissection, etc are often performed to remove head and neck cancers.
2. Radiation treatment:
Radiation therapy aims at lessening or treating cancer by using high beams of x-rays. These rays are focused on the cancer site to destroy the cancer cells, thereby reducing or inhibiting their growth
Drugs used to treat cancer by destroying cancer cells are known as chemotherapeutic agents. There are certain drugs used head and neck cancer treatment, some of them are:
Immunotherapy focuses on aiding the body's immune system to fight cancer.Some drugs that are approved to be used as immunotherapy agents by the FDA are:
5. Targeted therapy:
Targeted therapy aims to treat specific genes, tissues, or proteins of cancer, thereby limiting or inhibiting their growth.
An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Cure
Head and neck cancers are extremely common. However, with proper preventive measures, their development risk can be reduced. Quitting tobacco and alcohol consumption altogether, getting vaccinated, maintaining a healthy weight, and with proper dietary modifications, the risk of head and neck cancers can be prevented.