Cancer of the head and neck is frightening, but fortunately, in most cases highly curable if diagnosed early enough. Tumors in this region tend to form in the cells that line the mucosal surfaces of the head and neck, and often spread to the lymph nodes. They are referred to as squamous cell carcinomas.
Head and Neck Cancer Classifications
There are different types or classifications of head and neck cancer depending on the region of the body in which they form. These include:
- Larynx. Otherwise known as the voicebox, this organ contains the vocal cords and is instrumental in allowing us to speak, swallow, and breathe.
- Pharynx. Commonly referred to as the throat, this hollow tube is divided into three sections and leads from the nasal cavity to the esophagus.
- Oral cavity. The interior of the mouth, comprising the lips, tongue, gums, inner lining of the cheeks, and the floor and roof of the mouth.
- Nasal cavity. The space behind the nose, where air passes on the way to the throat.
- Salivary glands. Exocrine glands responsible for the production of saliva.
Additional cancers in this region of the body are different in nature and, therefore, don’t fall under the category of head and neck cancer. They include brain tumors, thyroid cancer, esophageal cancer, and others.
Diagnosing Head & Neck Cancer
It can be tricky to diagnose head and neck cancer, since symptoms may seem minor and closely related to those found with other conditions. You’ll want to look for a lump or sore that doesn’t go away, persistent sore throat, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing. Other symptoms include congestion, frequent sinus infections, swelling of the jaw, bleeding from the mouth, headaches, earaches, facial numbness or paralysis, swollen lymph nodes, and an unexplained weight loss.
Treatment will depend upon the location and stage of the tumor and the patient’s age and overall health. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of methods may be recommended.