Oral, Head and Neck Cancer: Symptoms, Risk Factors & More

Oral, head, and neck cancer can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender. It’s a concerning diagnosis. It can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. Unfortunately, many people don’t know enough about this type of cancer until it’s too late. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you understand everything you need to know about oral, head, and neck cancer – from the symptoms to the treatment options available today. 

By the end of this blog, you would have understood that in today’s day and time, there are plenty of medical options to successfully deal with cancer. So sit back and read on as we explore this important topic in-depth!

What are the Cancers of the Head, Neck, and Mouth?

There are many different types of head, neck, and mouth cancers. 

  • The most common type of head and neck cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. It starts in the flat cells lining the inside of the mouth and throat. 
  • Other types of head, neck, and mouth cancer include adenocarcinoma, salivary gland tumours, lymphoma, and sarcoma.
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer affects the upper part of the throat behind the nose. 
  • Thyroid cancer affects the gland in the neck that produces hormones to regulate metabolism
  • Laryngeal cancer affects the voice box. Oral cavity cancer can begin in any part of the mouth. These include the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard palate, or gums.

Symptoms of Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer

Symptoms of head, neck, and mouth cancer can vary. They depend on the location of the tumour. They may include :

  • A sore that does not heal
  • Painless swelling in the jaw
  • Toothache or Earache
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness or changes in voice
  • Bleeding from the nose or mouth
  • Lump in the neck. 

Risk Factors for Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer

There are several risk factors associated with oral, head, and neck cancer. These include:

  • Tobacco Use: Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes is the most important risk factor for developing these types of cancer. The risk increases with the number of years and amount smoked.
  • Heavy Alcohol Use: Drinking large amounts of alcohol also increases the risk of developing oral, head, and neck cancer.
  • Betel Nut Chewing: Chewing betel nuts, a common practice in some Asian countries, has been linked to an increased risk of these cancers.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is a group of viruses that can infect the mouth and throat. Some types of HPV are linked to an increased risk of oral cancer.
  • Exposure to Sunlight: People who work outdoors or spend a lot of time in the sun may be at increased risk for lip cancer.

Tests for Detecting Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer

Several tests can be used to detect oral, head, and neck cancer.

The most common test is a physical examination of the mouth, throat, and neck. This examination can often reveal tumours or other abnormalities. 

  • X-rays can sometimes be used to detect tumours in the mouth or throat. 
  • CT scans are more accurate than X-rays. They can show smaller tumours. 
  • MRI scans are even more detailed than CT scans. They can show small tumours that may not be visible on a CT scan. 
  • A biopsy is the only way to definitively diagnose cancer. It involves removing a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope.

Treatment and Rehabilitation Options For Those Diagnosed with Cancer

There are many different types of cancer, and each type requires a different treatment. 

  • The most common type of cancer is oral cancer. It affects the mouth and throat. Treatment for oral cancer usually involves surgery to remove the tumour, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy. 
  • Head and neck cancer is another common type of cancer. Treatment for head and neck cancer usually involves surgery to remove the tumour, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
  • Depending on the location of the cancer and the type of treatment, rehabilitation may involve physical therapy, dietary guidance, speech therapy, or teaching patients how to care for a stoma. 
  • A stoma is an opening into the windpipe for breathing. It is necessary following a laryngectomy surgery – surgical removal of the voice box. The National Library of Medicine provides more details about this procedure on MedlinePlus.

Side Effects of Head and Neck Cancer Treatment?

  • After surgery for head and neck cancer, patients may have difficulty chewing, swallowing, or talking. 
  • They may look different, and their face and neck may be swollen. The swelling typically subsides over time. 
  • If lymph nodes are removed, the flow of lymph in the area where they were removed may slow down. Lymph could collect in the tissues (a condition known as lymphedema). This can cause additional swelling.
  • Patients with untreated lymphedema may be more likely to develop complications like cellulitis or tissue infection. Cellulitis, if severe, may cause swallowing and breathing difficulties if left untreated.
  • It is possible to feel numb in parts of the neck and throat after a laryngectomy (removal of the voice box) or other neck surgery. If lymph nodes in the neck were removed, the shoulder and neck may become weak and stiff.
  • Patients undergoing radiation to the head and neck region may experience many side effects during treatment or shortly after, such as redness, irritation, sores in the mouth, dryness or thickness of saliva, difficulty swallowing and changes in taste. 
  • In addition to these issues, some patients may lose their sense of taste entirely, resulting in decreased appetite and nutrition problems; earaches caused by hardened ear wax; facial swelling; drooped skin under the chin; and alterations in skin texture. 
  • Furthermore, radiation treatment could lead to jaw stiffness and an inability to open one’s mouth as wide as before therapy.

Conclusion

Oral, head, and neck cancer are serious illnesses. They require careful monitoring and treatment. Fortunately, with the right doctor’s care, committed lifestyle changes, and proper screenings, you can reduce your risk of developing this type of cancer or catch it in its early stages to increase your chances for successful recovery. 

It is always best to be proactive when it comes to taking care of our health. So make sure you review the information provided here today. 
You can rely on Metropolis Healthcare for all your diagnostic needs. Our state-of-the-art diagnostic centres across India are well-equipped with all the latest equipment to help you diagnose issues, including cancer, early. Book your Head and Neck Cancer (HNSCC profile) test today! 

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