Head and neck cancers are caners that form in any part of the upper aerodigestive tract which includes the lips, mouth, throat, voice box, nasal cavity and sinuses. It also includes cancers of the saliva glands. These cancers are commonly managed by head and neck surgeons (ENT doctors). These cancers represent around 3% of cancers annually in the US and most of these arise from the lining tissue of the upper airway and is known as squamous cell cancer.
- The two most common traditional head and neck cancer risk factors include smoking and drinking. However, there is a rapidly growing group of patients who are affected with throat cancers that are virally mediated (human papilloma virus) without any exposure to typical chemical carcinogens. These cancers are usually in the tonsil or tongue base.
- Head and neck cancers can present in a variety of ways depending on the locations. Concerning symptoms that should prompt a patient to seek medical attention include voice changes, pain or difficulty swallowing, unexplained persisting ear pain, coughing or spitting up blood, unexplained weight loss, an ulcer or discoloration or a neck mass.
- If a patient presents experiencing any of the above symptoms a thorough history and physical exam will be performed. Depending on these findings additional studies or test may be performed including possible endoscopy, biopsy and imaging (CAT scan).