There are multiple issues that can occur within the glands, soft tissue structures, and cavities of the head and neck. These disorders can range from common infections and injuries to more serious conditions such as cancer and airway obstruction. The physicians at CornerStone Ear, Nose & Throat can help evaluate and treat the multiple and varied problems and conditions that can arise in this area of the body.
Head and Neck Cancer
The majority (about 90 percent) of head and neck cancers are due to long-term exposure to well-known risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol, and sunlight. Most cancers of the mouth, tongue, throat, and voice box are caused by tobacco use (cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff) and consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol. Throat cancer can also result from the human papilloma virus (HPV), while ongoing exposure to sunlight is directly linked to cancer of the skin and lip.
Head and neck cancers can usually be successfully treated and in most cases cured if caught in the early stages. Thus, recognizing the signs of head and neck cancer and immediately bringing them to the attention of an otolaryngologist (ENT doctor) can save your life.
Signs Of Head And Neck Cancer
The symptoms listed below can be related to head and neck cancer. These symptoms can also occur when no cancer is present. The only way to know the difference is to be examined by an otolaryngologist.
A lump in the neck – A lump that lasts more than two weeks should prompt a patient to be seen by a physician. It could be an early sign of mouth, throat, voice box, thyroid gland, or blood cancer. These lumps are usually painless and will continue to increase in size. Many benign lumps can also exist in the neck and can persist well beyond two weeks. These lumps typically are due to benign growths, cysts, and reactive lymph nodes. Otolaryngologists are the best-trained physicians to evaluate, diagnose, and treat any mass or lump in the head and neck area.
Voice changes – If you are hoarse or have changes in your voice that last for more than a month, it is important to see an ENT doctor.
Sore in the mouth – A sore or swelling in the mouth or on the tongue that does not go away after two weeks should be examined by a physician. A sore accompanied by a lump in the neck should also be cause for immediate concern, especially if there are known risk factors for cancer.
Bleeding in the mouth – There are many causes for blood in the mouth other than cancer. But if you have blood in your saliva for more than a few days, consult a physician.
Problems swallowing – Difficulty swallowing food or liquids could be a sign of cancer in the throat or esophagus. Examination by an ENT physician is definitely recommended if you have continual problems swallowing.
Constant earache – Referred pain in or around the ear when swallowing can be caused by a tumor in the throat, especially if there is also difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, or a lump in the neck. This combination is cause for examination by a physician.
Patches on the skin – If you have had extensive sun exposure, it’s important to watch for changes in your skin. Basal cell cancers, the most common type of head and neck cancer, usually begin as a small, pale patch on the skin. The basal cell cancer then continues to enlarge, creating a dimple in the center. Sometimes there is a change in color. Squamous cell cancers look similar to basal cell cancers, but more often appear on the lip or ear. Malignant melanoma creates a blue or black patch on the skin, much like an irregular-appearing mole. Any blue-black or black spot on the skin that changes size or shape, or any mole that changes size, shape, or color or begins to bleed, should be examined by a physician.
Treatment For Head And Neck Cancer
The primary treatment options for head and neck cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. The recommended treatment plan will depend on the specific type and stage of cancer, the patient’s overall state of health, and the potential side effects of treatment. Prior to treatment, all cancers must be diagnosed specifically by biopsy, and the patient must then be “staged” to determine the extent of the spread of cancer. Staging typically involves CT scans or CT/PET scans and is painless for the patient in most cases.