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Answered: Your Most Burning Questions About Head and Neck Cancer

Written by MSD in the Philippines

Head and neck cancer, the sixth most common cancer worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO), arises in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, thyroid gland, and larynx or the voice box.

People usually at risk of acquiring head and neck cancers are those that are into smoking and alcohol abuse. Some individuals may experience signs and symptoms, while others may feel perfectly healthy. This is why, in the fight against cancer regardless of cancer type, early screening and detection is promoted by medical societies and patient groups because it is crucial in fighting the dreaded disease.

What are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer?

Here are the indicators that can be felt in the different areas under the scope of the disease:

    • Lump in the neck – It’s time to consult your physician if you have a lump in your lymph nodes located in the area under your jaw line that has been there for more than 14 days because it is often the first sign of cancer in the mouth, throat, larynx, or thyroid gland.
    • Drastic changes in the voice – Cancer in the larynx can cause drastic and prolonged changes in your voice.
    • Sores in the mouth – If you have persistent sores in the mouth that don’t heal, visit your dentist or physician to get diagnosis and relief.
  • Signs of bleeding – Blood in the saliva and phlegm are not normal occurrences. They may indicate other conditions but can also be a sign of cancer. Don’t take any chances. Get yourself checked by a doctor.
  • Problems in swallowing – While sore throat may cause difficulty in swallowing food and drinks, it should ease as soon as the irritation is gone. But persistent problems in swallowing may indicate another condition. See your doctor to determine the real cause of the difficulty.
  • Constant earache – The ears, nose, and throat are interconnected. They function as one unit, with the pieces supporting the whole. Since they’re so intricately connected, a disturbance in one part can be felt in the other. This is why an earache may be caused by an impacted molar, sinus infection, or other conditions. Persistent earache may be associated with a more serious condition in the ear-nose-throat system. Consider consulting an otolaryngologist to get an accurate
    diagnosis of where your earache stems from.

Who are at most risk of developing Head and Neck Cancer?

There are people who are at higher risk of developing head and neck cancer caused by lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, these are people who are into excessive tobacco use, alcohol consumption, those with history of Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and human papillomavirus (HPV), people with weakened immune system and those with poor nutrition in their diet. Men and those over the age of 50 are also at higher risk of acquiring the disease.

What are the ways to detect Head and Neck Cancer?

Cancer research and studies emphasize that early testing remains the most important step in fighting cancer. The American Cancer Society listed the most common diagnostic tests done to identify head and neck cancer:

● Complete head and neck exam
● Panendoscopy
● Biopsy
● CT scan
● MRI scan
● Barium swallow
● Chest x-ray
● PET scan
● Blood tests

What Are Available Treatments for Head and Neck Cancer?

The main treatments for head and neck cancer are surgery and radiation therapy. These can be used alone or in combination, and with or without chemotherapy.

Below are the factors considered in determining treatments for head and neck cancer:

Location of the cancer:

    • Cancer stage
    • Quality of life during and after treatment
    • Age
    • Medical history
  • Side effects of the treatment in the cancer patient

In any cancer journey, the goal is to improve patients’ quality of life and survivorship. Today, patients and caregivers receive support from multi-stakeholder groups who are working to decrease the stigma of cancer as an automatic death sentence. If you are at risk, have yourself screened, talk to your doctor, get treatment, and seek help from support groups.

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