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Head and Neck Cancer

  • Overview Symptoms Causes Diagnosis Treatment
Overview

Head and Neck Cancer in India and other developing countries is a common form of cancer. This includes Ear Cancers, Nose Cancers, Throat Cancers, Tongue Cancers and the Oral Cancers. Usually, the cells lining these organs experience a cancerous growth and then affect the entire organ. Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which have a cancerous growth that begins within the flat squamous cells that form the inner lining of many parts of the head and neck. Invasive squamous cell carcinoma is a tumor that moves into deeper tissues and adenocarcinomas arise in the glandular cells, such as those found in the salivary glands. Alcohol and tobacco are the key etiological factors and their use increases the risk of developing Head and Neck Cancers.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms vary with the location of the primary site and the stage of cancer. The early warning signs of Head and Neck Cancer could lead to a diagnosis at an early stage and a high probability of cure in many cases. For example, hoarseness frequently occurs in the earliest stage of voice box cancers. A persistent sore throat for longer than two weeks is a possible symptom of cancer in the voice box and/or the pharynx. Other symptoms often include:

  • Cancer of the oral cavity includes pain and changes in the fit of dentures (if the patient is using one)
  • A non-healing ulcer, difficulty in swallowing or nasal blockage may also serve as warning signs of potential carcinomas
  • Although not an early sign, a neck mass may be the first presenting symptom
  • Nasal problems may also indicate a possibility of nasopharyngeal cancer
Causes

In India, most of the oral cavity cancers are seen in people who chew tobacco, tobacco-related products and smoke cigars/cigarettes. Studies have shown that in India cancer can start from a condition known as submucous fibrosis, which is a result of chewing products containing tobacco and other ingredients, such as betel nuts, for a long time. The following can be some of the possible causes:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Asbestos
  • Dietary exposures
  • Genetics
Diagnosis

Head and Neck Cancers can be diagnosed with a cancer screening exam which can help detect cancer early. Early detection and screening are important because it helps save lives. Any lumps or irregular tissue changes in the initial stages require further investigation. This would be followed by biopsy and imaging studies to identify the site and the stage of cancer.

Treatment

Surgery and radiation are standard methods of treatment for throat cancer. Multiple factors are taken into consideration during the planning of a treatment for each case which may include the age and overall general health of the patient, apart from which the type of cancer, stage, and location of cancer is an important factor. If cancer has spread to other sites in the body plays a large role in determining what treatment method is apt for the condition.

In cases of recurrent tumors which may have been already treated, CyberKnife radiosurgery is used as an alternative treatment option to eradicate the tumor. The CyberKnife uses high precision radiation with pinpoint accuracy to destroy the tumor without affecting the healthy tissues in the surrounding area. CyberKnife treatments are painless and non-invasive.