Head and Neck Cancer Symptoms and Causes

What are the Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer?

Like the symptoms of any other cancer, head and neck cancer symptoms also depend on the location where the cancerous cells have developed. As the name suggests, this type of cancer forms in the nose, throat, and ear regions.

Understanding the risk factors for cancer also helps in judging whether the patient is suffering from symptoms of head cancer or not. The reason is that the symptoms of neck cancer are similar to and can be confused with those of a common cold, such as sore throat, headaches, voice changes, etc. Some other symptoms include ringing or continuous pain in the ears.

Also, getting a clear picture of these symptoms, risk factors, and causes helps physicians design an effective course of treatment.

Head and neck carcinoma usually starts in the squamous cells lining the mucosal surfaces of the head and neck regions. In addition, cancerous cells can also develop in the sinuses, nerves of the head and neck, and salivary glands.

The symptoms of head cancer can be differentiated as per the place where the carcinoma cells are located. However, there is no difference between men's and women's head and neck cancer symptoms.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer develops on the back side of the throat and mouth.

Mouth Ulcers

The common symptoms of oral cancer include persistent mouth ulcers.

Other symptoms of oral cancer include the presence of a lump inside the mouth or the lip, a lump in the neck or the throat, difficulty speaking, weight loss without any effort, and pain in the mouth that has no evident cause.

Throat Cancer or Larynx Cancer

Throat cancer is a general term referring to cancer of the voice box and throat or pharyngeal carcinoma. Its symptoms include:

Oropharyngeal Cancer

Oropharyngeal cancer refers to the growth of cancerous cells in the area ranging from the backside of the oral cavity to the upper side of the throat. Its symptoms include:

Ear Pain or Hearing Loss

Sharp pain in the ear or hearing loss may also be seen in patients with oropharyngeal cancer. Other symptoms include unintentional weight loss, the appearance of a white patch on your tongue or inner cheeks, phlegm with blood, and trouble opening the mouth.

Hypopharyngeal Cancer

This particular type of cancer is usually asymptomatic and goes undetected for quite some time after developing in the lower part of the throat. Its symptoms include:

Lump or Swelling

A lump or swelling at the back of the neck can be a symptom of hypopharyngeal cancer. This is one of the most common symptoms of neck cancer.

Chronic Ear Pain

Another common symptom of hypopharyngeal carcinoma is chronic ear pain, which does not go away easily. This is one of the symptoms of neck cancer that should never be ignored.

Nasal and Sinus Cancer

Nasal cavity and sinus cancer are not easy to find, and their symptoms are often vague and can be easily mistaken for the symptoms of other less serious and more common health conditions. Their symptoms include:

Persistent Nasal Congestion

Continuous or persistent nasal congestion or a blockage of the nose on one side could be significant symptoms of nasal cavity cancer. Other symptoms of head cancer associated with the nasal cavity and sinus glands include pain in the eyes and ears, pressure in one of the ears, hearing difficulties, etc.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Weight loss without any extra effort can also be a sign of nasal and sinus cancer. Weight loss is also a symptom of other head and neck cancers.

What are the Causes of Head and Neck Cancer?

Head and neck cancer causes are no different from those of most other carcinomas. These include age groups, tobacco and alcohol use, and HPV infections. In addition, some more factors have been identified in studies conducted on what causes head and neck cancer.

When Should You See an Oncologist?

According to the experts, the best time to see an oncologist is when and if you start experiencing any of the above-mentioned head and neck cancer symptoms. The reason is that early detection, in most cases, means an increase in survival rates. The oncologist, after examining the symptoms, would perform a physical exam and recommend some diagnostic tests. The results from the diagnostic tests help the oncologist easily determine what causes neck cancer and design a proper treatment course.


Most head and neck carcinomas are treatable if detected early with a proper course of surgery and radiation. Thus, it is advisable to see a doctor if you experience any of the associated symptoms. The doctor would then suggest the best available treatment options as per the patient's symptoms and the location of the cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Head and neck cancer usually starts in the squamous cells lining the mucosal surface of the neck and head.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a virus that is one of the major risk factors for carcinoma of the head and neck.

Symptoms of neck cancer in the lymph nodes include swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpit or neck, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, and continuous fatigue.

TThe end-stage head and neck cancer symptoms are severe and difficult to manage. Pain, severe fatigue, swallowing difficulties, speaking difficulties, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, and severe weight loss are the most important end-stage head and neck cancer symptoms. Patients also experience bleeding, changes in vision, numbness in the arms and legs, and depression in the terminal stages of head and neck cancer.

The growth rate of head and neck cancer depends on various factors, which include the type of cancer, individual risk factors, and the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed. Neck cancer is relatively found to have a faster growth rate when compared to other types of cancer, and therefore, it is important to be aware of the different symptoms of head and neck cancer and see a doctor when something is not normal.

The risk of developing head and neck cancer increases with age. People who are between the ages of 40 and 70 are at a higher risk of getting head and neck cancer.

The tumor in the back of the neck symptoms are easy to identify. They include sharp and chronic pain in the neck that gets no relief with medication, swelling, the presence of a lump, difficulty swallowing, and a change in voice.

The survival rates for advanced-stage head and neck cancers are poor. Also, it is important to note that survival rates depend on a myriad of factors, like the overall health status of the patient, the treatments administered, and the treatment response shown by the patient.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of the different symptoms of head and neck cancer and see a doctor when any symptoms last for more than 2 weeks and cannot be cured with medications.

Yes, head and neck cancers cause weight loss before, during, and after the cancer treatment. Weight loss starts with appetite loss in most cases. Other factors that lead to weight loss among head and neck cancer patients include increased metabolism, loss of skeletal muscle, extreme fatigue, and decreased quality of life.

Yes, studies show that untreated oral HPV infections can increase one’s risk of developing cancer in the head and neck regions. Oral HPV infection is caused by unnatural sexual practices, like oral sex.

Oral HPV infections gradually lead to tumor formation in the head and neck region if your immune system fails to recognize and fight these abnormal cells. HPV-induced head and neck carcinomas are more common among men than women.