Head and neck cancer is cancer that occurs in the head or neck area. This group does not include thyroid or skin cancers. However, it includes some cancers of the mouth, nose and throat, such as cancer of the larynx or tumors in the sinuses.
Since there are quite a few species, there are also different causes and symptoms, as well as treatments. This article provides an overview of some of these common head and neck cancers, including those associated with the human papillomavirus ( HPV ).
Head and neck cancer symptoms vary by type. A wide range of symptoms can include:
- Chronic sinus infections that do not respond to treatment.
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing.
- Voice changes or hoarseness.
- Pain in the neck, throat, jaw, or chin that does not go away.
- Earache, ringing in the ears, or hearing problems.
- Ulcers, blisters or other incurable lesions in the mouth.
- Bloody sputum
- Difficulty opening your mouth or chewing
- Unusually bad breath
- Double vision
- Lump (s) in the neck
These are common symptoms of head and neck cancer, but there are other symptoms specific to each type. These types can include:
Causes and risk factors
Risk factors for head and neck cancer differ for different types, but tobacco and alcohol use are among the most important risks. In recent years, HPV has been associated with cancer of the mouth and head, especially oropharyngeal cancer. HPV-related cancers are on the rise, especially among the young and those who have never used tobacco.
Other risk factors for head and neck cancer include:
How head and neck cancer is diagnosed depends on the type of cancer that is suspected. Laboratory tests, imaging tests, biopsies, and endoscopy are methods of diagnosing many types of cancer. Once the cancer is confirmed, the stage of the cancer is determined and a treatment plan is created.
Treatment for head and neck cancer depends on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, and other general health factors. Common treatments for head and neck cancer include:
Different types of head and neck cancer can share common symptoms, but they occur for different reasons. Treatment will depend on the type of cancer that is being staged. The same goes for prevention, which targets specific risk factors for head and neck cancer.
It is more widely known that HPV causes cervical cancer in women, but there is growing evidence of its role in other types of cancer. Limiting any exposure to HPV can also reduce the risk of head and neck cancer, and the HPV vaccine is one way to do that.
Another way is to find out or analyze sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), their symptoms and risks, and observe your own sexual behavior. These routes of HPV transmission can include:
- Vaginal intercourse
- Anal sex
- Oral sex
- Use of non-disinfected sex toys after infection.
Many studies have suggested a link between HPV infection and various types of head and neck cancers, including those found in a 2018 review. However, even the cases in a subset of these HPV-related cancers are not the same, and researchers are finding some differences based on genetics. This could lead to more specific treatment in the future.
Tobacco and alcohol use have long been associated with head and neck cancer, and this is a good reason to avoid them. In fact, the risk is higher for people who drink and use tobacco products.
Poor oral hygiene can also be associated with head and neck cancer. Dentures that cause irritation due to improper fit and any untreated cavities can increase the risk of oral cancer.
There are quite a few different types of head and neck cancers, including HPV-related cancers. Symptoms and treatment depend on the cancer and, among other things, on its extent. Prevention also depends on the type of cancer and possible risk factors.
Get the word of drug information
Some of the symptoms associated with head and neck cancer are quite general and can mean nothing more than a cold or a late visit to the dentist. But if these symptoms persist or occur in a setting that bothers you, call your doctor to discuss your concerns.
First of all, don't hesitate to ask how you can protect yourself against these cancers, especially those related to HPV. Your doctor can also tell you if the HPV vaccine is right for you.