10 Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer
By Dr. G. Zachary White, otolaryngologist at Bronson Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery Specialists in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
As seen in Scene Magazine, April 2020
G. Zachary White, DO
Cancers of the head and neck include several different types of cancers that form in the ears, nose, mouth and throat. They can include:
- Cancer of the larynx, located at the top of the windpipe
- Throat cancer, either in the upper or lower part of the throat
- Cancer of the sinuses
- Cancer of the oral cavity, tonsils or salivary glands
- Cancers of the facial skin
While not among the most common types of cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports oral and throat cancers are on the rise in the U.S. From 2000 to 2016, the rate of new oral cancers rose from 30,000 to over 45,000. According to the American Cancer Society, that number continued to increase to over 50,000 new cases in 2019.
The National Cancer Institute reports that head and neck cancers are twice as common in men as in women. Michigan’s reported rate of oral and throat cancers is slightly less than the average number of cases across the United States.
It is important to note that oral and throat cancers are quite treatable, especially when diagnosed early. Unfortunately, many symptoms can easily mimic common illnesses such as colds, sinus infections and strep throat.
Symptoms of oral and throat cancer may include:
- A lump in the nose, mouth, throat or neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent coughing
- Ongoing hoarseness or changing of the voice
- Ear pain or hearing issues
- A sore throat or congestion that doesn’t go away
- Nose bleeds, bleeding in the mouth
- Trouble breathing
- Unexplained weight loss
Due to the location of head and neck cancers, as they progress some can cause issues with eating, breathing, swallowing and ear pain.
What are the causes of head and neck cancers?
Whether smoking or chewing, tobacco use is the primary risk factor for head and neck cancers. Alcohol consumption is another major risk. When tobacco and alcohol use are combined, the risk of head and neck cancers increases significantly.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is another risk factor in some head and neck cancers, such as certain types of throat cancer. Other viruses can play a part in the development of head and neck cancers, too.
How are head and neck cancers diagnosed and treated?
The diagnosis process begins with a visit to your doctor. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and may order lab testing, typically blood and urine tests. Depending on the findings, an endoscopy could also be needed. An endoscopy is performed using a lighted, flexible tube that allows the doctor a view of the nose and/or throat. A sample of any suspicious tissue is taken at this time for lab evaluation. Other imaging tests can be ordered as well, like x-rays, ultrasounds, CT and MRI scans.
Treatments for head and neck cancers depend on the specific type and severity of the cancer. Surgery alone may take care of the cancer. In other cases, drug therapy, chemotherapy or radiation, or a combination of these treatments, may also be used.
When to be concerned and what to do if you have an issue?
You know your body better than anyone. Because of this, you are the first line of defense in diagnosing cancer early. Many common symptoms can easily be ignored or attributed to another illness or condition. If you feel that something is different or not feeling right, have a conversation with your primary care provider. Together, you can track signs and symptoms and investigate warning signs. Your doctor may schedule diagnostic tests and/or refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist to determine the cause of your symptoms.
G. Zachary White, DO, is an otolaryngologist at Bronson Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery Specialists in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. He uses the latest surgical techniques, studies the newest research, and applies this knowledge to personalize care for each of his patients. He can be reached by calling Bronson Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery Specialists at (269)381-0180 or (269) 245-8590.
Nationally recognized cancer care
If you receive a cancer diagnosis, state-of-the-art care isn’t far away. The Bronson Battle Creek Cancer Care Center is accredited by the Commission on Cancer and has been recognized nationally for patient safety. The team of cancer experts at the center offer comprehensive care and utilizes the latest technology and therapies to diagnose and treat cancer. Additionally, Bronson Battle Creek is one of the nation’s safest hospitals with an ‘A’ Hospital Safety Grade (Fall 2019) from The Leapfrog Group. If you need a referral to a specialist for a head or neck concern, ask your primary care provider to refer you to an oncologist or ENT provider at Bronson Battle Creek.