Head & Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancerCancer of the head and neck is curable if caught early. As many as 90 percent of head and neck cancers arise after prolonged exposure to specific factors. Use of tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, or snuff) and alcoholic beverages are closely linked with cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, and tongue. In recent years, Human Papilloma virus has been linked to cancers of the head and neck in adults who neither smoke nor drink. Prolonged exposure to sunlight is linked with cancer of the lip and is also an established major cause of skin cancer.

Fortunately, most head and neck cancers produce early symptoms. You should know the potential warning signs so you can alert your doctor as soon as possible. Remember—successful treatment of head and neck cancer can depend on early detection. Knowing and recognizing the signs of head and neck cancer can save your life. Signs of head and neck cancer may include unexplained swelling or lumps, chronic sore throat and hoarseness, non-healing sores in the mouth or throat, coughing up blood, unexplained earache of more than a few days or swallowing problems. Such signs should be examined as soon as possible. Your dentist or primary care physcian may refer you to an ENT doctor who will examine you and coordinate making a diagnosis often times with a biopsy. Ultimate treatment may require surgery including the latest in robotic surgery. With early detection and treatment, results of treatment are usually excellent.

Warning signs

A lump in the neck-Cancers that begin in the head or neck usually spread to lymph nodes in the neck before they spread elsewhere. A lump in the neck that lasts more than two weeks should be seen by a surgeon as soon as possible. Of course, not all lumps are cancer. But a lump (or lumps) in the neck can be the first sign of cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, thyroid gland, or of certain lymphomas or blood cancers. Such lumps are generally painless and continue to enlarge steadily.

Change in the voice – Most cancers in the larynx cause some changes in voice. Any hoarseness or other voice change lasting more than two weeks should alert you to see an ENT surgeon. While most voice changes are not caused by cancer, you should seek professional evaluation to ensure you are not missing an undiagnosed cancer.

A growth in the mouth-Most cancers of the mouth or tongue cause a sore or swelling that doesn’t go away. These sores and swellings may be painless unless they become infected. Bleeding may occur, but often not until late in the disease. If lumps in the neck accompany an ulcer or swelling, you should seek professional evaluation.

Spitting up blood-This is often caused by something other than cancer. However, tumors in the nose, mouth, throat, or lungs can cause bleeding. If blood appears in your saliva or sputum for more than a few days, you should see your ENT doctor.

Swallowing problems-Dysphagia-Cancer of the throat or esophagus (food passage) may make swallowing solid foods difficult. Sometimes liquids can also be troublesome. The food may “stick” at a certain point and then either go through to the stomach or come back up. If you have trouble almost every time you try to swallow something, you should be examined by a ENT doctor.

Skin tumors of head and neck-The most common head and neck cancer is basal cell cancer of the skin. Other kinds of cancer, including 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. Any mole that changes size, color, or begins to bleed may be trouble. A black or blue-black spot on the face or neck, particularly if it changes size or shape, should be seen as soon as possible by an ENT doctor.

Persistent earache-otalgia-Constant pain in or around the ear when you swallow can be a sign of infection or tumor growth in the throat. This is particularly serious if it is associated with difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness or a lump in the neck. These symptoms are best evaluated by an ENT doctor.

Remember: When found early, most cancers in the head and neck can be cured with relatively little difficulty. Cure rates for these cancers could be greatly improved if people would seek medical advice as soon as possible. So play it safe.


If you think you have one of the warning signs of head and neck cancer, consult a physician at South Florida ENT Care Center One today.

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