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 develops on the back side of the throat and mouth.
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 is a general term referring to cancer of the voice box and throat or pharyngeal carcinoma. Its symptoms include:
One of the major symptoms of throat cancer is the development of a lump on the back of the neck, which again does not go away even after taking medicines. One of the early signs of throat cancer is a lump on the back of the neck. Cancer of the throat can be caught in its early stages if the symptoms are brought to a doctor’s attention immediately.
Another common symptom of throat cancer is a persistent sore throat or the feeling that something is blocking your throat.
Difficulty in swallowing things without any proper reason should not be ignored, as it could also be a symptom of throat or larynx cancer.
Getting a hoarse voice or having inappropriate voice changes could be a symptom of larynx cancer, which should be checked immediately. Some other common head and neck cancer symptoms include problems breathing, continuous bouts of coughing, and unexplained weight loss.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
Tobacco and alcohol consumption in excess is one of the most common causes of neck cancer. A majority of head and neck cancers are usually caused by chewing tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption. Also, tobacco use may affect the prognosis, i.e., the chances of recovery after the treatment.
HPV, or Human Papillomavirus infection, is also one of the possible head and neck cancer causes. Initiating unprotected sexual activities and unnatural sexual practices with individuals having HPV infections can also increase the chances of getting this infection.
Some occupations or jobs cause individuals to be exposed to certain toxic substances, and this can serve as one of the potential head and neck cancer causes. These substances may be wood dust, pesticides, paints, asbestos, etc.
As per some studies, having radiation treatment for benign or malignant tumors is, in some cases, associated with the development of salivary gland cancer. However, the associated risk is quite low.
Certain genetic factors have also been identified as possible head and neck cancer causes. For example, people who have inherited Fanconi anemia from their parents can have an increased risk for head and neck cancers.
Having exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus infection can increase the patient's chances of getting nasopharyngeal cancer.
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.