Head and Neck Cancer: Vital Facts You Must Know to Save Your Life

Head and neck cancer refers to a variety of cancers affecting the mouth, throat, nose, salivary glands, voice box, and other areas of the head and neck. According to the National Cancer Institute, head and neck cancers account for about 4% of all cancers in the U.S. The most common head and neck cancers include:

  • Oral cancer
  • Oropharyngeal cancer
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer
  • Salivary gland cancer
  • Tonsil cancer

The Warning Signs of Head and Neck Cancer

The problem with head and neck cancer is that they’re easy to mistake for a less serious condition such as a sore throat or a sinus infection. If you notice that any of the following symptoms persist, you should visit your doctor:

  • Persistent sore throat
  • Voice changes (such as hoarseness)
  • Persistent neck pain
  • Lump in the throat, mouth, or neck
  • Frequent headaches
  • Pain when chewing or swallowing
  • Breathing problems
  • Facial numbness
  • Painful upper teeth
  • Swelling in the jaw, neck, or side of the face
  • Nosebleeds
  • Unusual nasal discharge
  • Unexplained bad breath
  • Sore mouth or tongue (that doesn’t heal)
  • White or red patch on the tongue, gums, or inside of the mouth
  • Persistent ear infections or earaches

Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancer

Knowing and discussing your risk factors with your doctor can help you make more informed decisions about your lifestyle and health care. For example, the two substances that significantly increase the risk of head and neck cancer are:

  • Tobacco – Studies have shown that as much as 80% of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use, including smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes; it also includes chewing tobacco.
  • Alcohol – Heavy and frequent alcohol consumption has been linked to the increased risk of developing head and neck cancers like esophageal cancer, mouth cancer, and larynx cancer.

Beyond tobacco use and alcohol consumption, there are other risk factors for head and neck cancer, including:

  • Sun exposure – Exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays for an extended period raises the likelihood of developing lip and oral cancer, as well as skin cancer.
  • Vitamin deficiencies – Vitamin deficiencies may be caused by poor nutrition or a medical condition. Vitamin deficiencies increase your risk for all types of cancer, including head and neck cancer, because deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can lead to DNA damage.
  • HPV infection – Up to 75% of oropharyngeal cancers are associated with the human papillomavirus.
  • Exposure to toxic substances – Where you work or live may expose you to toxic substances that have been identified to increase the risk of head and neck cancer, including paint fumes, asbestos, wood dust, and chemicals.
  • Genes – As with many cancers, you may be at increased risk of head and neck cancer if someone in your family has the disease.
  • Age – Your risk for head and neck cancer increases with age. People over the age of 40 are at higher risk.

Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology offers multiple treatment options for head and neck cancer, such as high-dose radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy, brachytherapy, and treatment with CyberKnife. Contact Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology today for more information about head and neck cancer and head and neck cancer treatment options.