Head & Neck Cancer

Head & Neck Cancer

Did You Know?

  • 55,000 Americans will develop cancer of the head and neck this year
  • 13,000 will die from the disease

Why? Because cancers of the head and neck are most often caused by tobacco use, which is one of the most preventable causes of death. Still, more than 480,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses each year in the U.S. (including more than 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke exposure). This includes cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco use, such as smokeless or spit/chewing tobacco, which greatly increase the risk of mouth, throat and stomach cancer, as well.

Cancers of the head and neck however, are curable if caught early. You should know the warning signs and symptoms so you can alert your doctor as soon as possible.

Lump in the Neck
Cancers that begin in the head or neck usually spread first to the lymph nodes in the neck. A lump in the neck that lasts longer than two weeks should be checked by a physician. Not all lumps are cancer, of course. But a lump in the neck can be the first sign of cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box (larynx), thyroid gland or of lymphomas and blood cancers. These cancers are usually painless and continue to grow steadily if not treated.

Change in the Voice
Most cancers of the voice box (larynx) cause some change to the voice. If you have any changes or hoarseness lasting more than two weeks, you should see your physician. One of our Otolaryngologists can check your vocal chords painlessly and easily. Most voice changes of course are not caused by cancer, but don’t take any chances. If you’re hoarse more than two weeks, see your doctor.

Growth in the Mouth
Most cancers of the mouth or tongue will cause soreness or swelling that doesn’t go away. These sores may be painless unless they become infected, and bleeding may occur in later stages of the disease. If an ulcer or swelling is accompanied by a lump in the neck, you should be very concerned. Your dentist or doctor can determine is a biopsy (tissue sample test) is needed and will refer you to a head and neck surgeon for this procedure. As with all cancers, the earlier you catch it and get examined, the better.

Bringing Up Blood
If blood appears in your saliva or phlegm, it’s often caused by something other than cancer. If it lasts longer than a few days however, see your physician. Tumors in the nose, mouth, throat or lungs can cause bleeding.

Swallowing Problems
If you have trouble swallowing almost every time you try to swallow something, you should be examined by a doctor. Cancer of the throat or esophagus (swallowing tube) may make swallowing foods and even liquids quite difficult. Food may “stick” at a certain point and then either go through to the stomach or come back up. A barium swallow x-ray or an examination of the swallowing tube with a telescope will be performed to find the cause, which can then be treated.

Changes in the Skin
Basal cell cancer of the skin is the most common head and neck cancer. When treated early, this is rarely a major problem. These cancers can occur almost anywhere on the skin, but they are most common on sun-exposed areas such as the forehead, face and ears.

Basal cell cancer often begins as a small, pale patch that slowly grows, producing a “dimple” and eventually an ulcer. Parts of the ulcer may heal, but the major part remains ulcerated.

You should check your skin regularly for any new or changing marks and see your physician for examination of anything that’s new, changing, irregular in shape or ulcerated.

Other Types of Cancer
Squamous cell cancer and malignant melanoma also occur on the skin of the head and neck. Most squamous cell cancers occur on the lower lip and ear. If caught early and treated properly, they aren’t much more dangerous than basal cell cancers.

Malignant melanoma produces dense blue-black or black discolorations of the skin and can be very serious. A mole that changes in size, color or begins to bleed may signal trouble. Any black or blue-black spot on the face or neck – especially if it changes size or shape – should be seen by a dermatologist or physician as soon as possible.

Persistent Earache
Constant pain in or around the ear when you swallow can be a sign of infection or tumor growth in the throat. If this is associated with difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness or a lump in the neck, it can be especially serious. These symptoms should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist immediately.

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EN&T Associates

500 Donnally Street, Suite 200
Charleston, WV 25301
(304) 340-2200

Monday – Thursday
8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.