Head and Neck Cancer and it's Types - Overview

What is Head and Neck Cancer?

Head and neck cancer is a combined term for carcinomas affecting the throat, mouth, and other parts of the head and neck, excluding brain and eye cancer. They usually initiate in the squamous cells lining the head and neck's mucosal surfaces.

However, depending on where the head-neck cancer has started, it gets its name. For example, the cancer that develops in the regions of the lips, gums, tongue, behind the wisdom tooth, and the lining of the lips and cheeks is called oral cancer. At the same time, cancer that develops in the voice box, or larynx, is termed laryngeal cancer.

Significantly, head and neck tumors are caused by persistent smoking, chewing tobacco, and alcohol consumption. The major symptoms of head and neck carcinoma include jaw swelling, a lump in the mouth, and bleeding through the nose or mouth. These symptoms usually depend on the location where the cancer is residing, such as the mouth, voice box, or nasal cavity.

One of the most common symptoms of the said carcinoma is continuous throat pain that does not go away and a change in voice.

How Common are Head and Neck Cancers?

Head and neck carcinomas are quite common, and they are ranked among the top ten cancers diagnosed in India. They are mostly diagnosed among people over the age of 50. Also, men are more affected by this cancer as compared to women.

Most Common Site of Head and Neck Cancer

Here are some of the common sites of head and neck carcinoma among patients:

What are the Types of Head and Neck Cancer?

Here are the different types of head and neck cancer found among patients.


Carcinoma of the head and neck comprises multiple cancers in the upper region of the body. The diagnosis needs proper head and neck cancer imaging, and the treatment depends on where the cancer has started. Also, the survival rate depends on the type of head-neck cancer, head and neck cancer stages, the treatment administered, and the patient’s overall health status.

Frequently Asked Questions

In the first stage of neck cancer, the cancer is localized, has not reached the lymph nodes, and can be diagnosed easily. The tumor found at this stage is two centimeters or less in size.

The survival rate of stages I and II, when diagnosed early, is quite high and ranges between 70 and 80 percent. However, as the disease advances, the survival rates start reducing.

This depends on the type of head and neck carcinoma. Some head-neck cancers grow at a slower rate, while some head-neck cancers progress slowly.

Being mindful of the different symptoms of head-neck cancers and promptly seeing a doctor when something is not normal helps in catching the disease in its early stages and receiving appropriate treatment.

Genetic makeup does count as one of the major risk factors for cancer of the head and neck region. Having certain inherited genetic mutations and a positive family history of carcinoma of the head and neck region can increase one’s risk of developing this condition.

Laryngeal cancer, or voice box cancer, is a common neck cancer type. Voice box cancer will need comprehensive treatment, which may involve surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Post-treatment, patients will also need rehabilitation care for a faster recovery.

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common head and neck tumors.

Not all lumps in the neck are caused by cancer. In most cases, these lumps could be swollen lymph nodes, which are caused by infection or inflammation. However, if these lumps are persistent and do not go away after the inflammation is cured, you must immediately see your doctor, who will thoroughly examine these lumps before arriving at a conclusive diagnosis.

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 the formation of tumors 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.

Yes, head and neck tumors or cancers are treatable. However, for positive clinical outcomes and better survival rates, they have to be detected in their early stages. That said, even advanced-stage cancers of the head and neck region can be treated with a better prognosis if diagnosed accurately and treated appropriately. The treatment plans could be unimodal or multimodal.

Different head and neck cancer treatments are associated with different side effects. Radiation therapy may lead to fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, and pain with swallowing. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, may cause nausea, hair loss, low blood counts, and changes in taste. A few side effects, like nausea, wear off as soon as the treatment ends. However, other side effects, like fatigue and discomfort with swallowing, take some time to improve.

Yes, this cancer causes weight loss before, during, and after the 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.