Malignancies in the head and neck usually start in the moist, mucous surfaces inside the mouth, nose, and throat. The cells that line these surfaces are called “squamous cells.” More rarely, head and neck cancers may also start in the salivary glands — which contain numerous types of cells.
Cancers of the head and neck account for about 4 percent of all cancers in the U.S. and are more prevalent in men and those over 50 years of age. They are divided by their place of occurrence. The pharynx (throat), the larynx (voicebox), the sinuses and nasal cavity, and the salivary glands.
At least 75 percent of these cancers – except salivary gland – are caused by tobacco and alcohol use. Other risk factors include the human papillomavirus, preserved foods, poor oral health, occupational exposure, radiation exposure and Epstein-Barr virus infection.
The symptoms of head and neck cancers include lumps or sores that don’t heal, swallowing difficulties, sore throat that doesn’t heal and voice hoarseness.
Diagnosis is made based on examination, medical history and microscopic testing of tissue samples.
Treatment for head and neck cancer can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy or a combination of treatments.