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Home > Cancers Treated > Head & Neck Cancers

Head and Neck Cancers

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What are head and neck cancers?

Head and neck cancers tend to start in the squamous cells that line the moist (mucosal) surfaces inside the head and neck—for example, in the mouth, nose, sinuses, salivary glands (uncommon) and throat.

Who develops head and neck cancers?

Excessive drinking and tobacco use (including chewing tobacco) increase your risk of developing cancer in these areas—especially when alcohol and tobacco are used together. According to the National Cancer Institute, at least 75 percent of head and neck cancers are caused by these two factors. Having human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is another risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers. Being male and being over age 50 also increases your risk. Other risk factors include:

  • exposure to certain chemicals, such as paint fumes and asbestos
  • exposure to Epstein-Barr virus
  • poor diet
  • poor oral and dental hygiene

What are the symptoms of head and neck cancers?

Symptoms can vary greatly depending on where the cancer is located. Lumps, non-healing sores, persistent sore throat, red or white patches in the mouth, swallowing problems, double vision, fatigue, ear pain, difficulties breathing and a change to the voice (including hoarseness) can all indicate cancer. However, these symptoms can also be attributed to less serious health issues, so make sure to see your physician if you are experiencing any of them.

How are head and neck cancers diagnosed?

In addition to a physical exam and thorough medical history, your physician may order diagnostic testing. Most importantly, a pathologic exam of the tissue will provide further information.

How are head and neck cancers treated?

Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy (which targets a cancer tumor’s specific traits) are possible treatments for head and neck cancers.

To learn more about cancer services at The Daniel and Gloria Blumenthal Cancer Center, call 201-634-5339.

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