What is Head and Neck Cancer?

“Head and Neck cancer” refers to biologically similar cancer that starts from upper aero digestive tract. These include the lips, mouth, nasal cavity, pharynx and larynx. Most of these cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Head and neck cancers mostly spread to the neck first before spreading to the lymph nodes.

There are several types of head and neck cancers:  Oral cavity cancer. The inner lip,toung and floor of the mouth may contain squamous cell cancers, refered to as cancers of the oral cavity. Oral cavity cancers are closely associated with the chewing of tobacco and heavy alcohol. Treatment for oral cavity cancers is in most cases through surgery such as maxillectomy, mandibulectomy, and glossectomy. Nasopharynx cancer. Nasopharyngeal cancer emanates from the nasopharynx, where nasal cavities connect with the upper part of the throat. Oropharynx cancer. These cancers do start at the middle part of the throat (oropharynx). Hypopharynx cancer. These cancers spread rapidly due to the extensive lymphatic network around the larynx  Laryngeal cancer. These normaly start in the larynx, also known as voice box. This type of cancer is strongly associated with tobacco smoking. This can be treated through surgery which includes partial laryngectomy (partial removal of larynx) or total laryngectomy, in which case the victim will have to learn how to speak again through intensive speech therapy.  Trachea cancer. This is rare but is normaly similar to head and neck cancer.

These types of cancers do present themselves through different signs: Enlarged lymph glands in the neck, slurring of speech, a hoarse voice, a persistent sore throat, difficulty swallowing food, change in diet or weight loss, mouth ulcers, neck pain, sinus congestion, a lump on the lip, mouth or gums.

Several risk factors are associated with the occurrence of head and neck cancers: Alcohol and tobacco use.Drug use (marijuana) Exposure to textile fibre Woodworking. Excessive eating of red meat Heredity.

Avoidance of recognised risk factors is a sure way of preventing any of the the head and neck cancers. Regular dental examinations may identify pre-cancerous lesions in the oral cavity. When diagnosed early, oral, head and neck cancers can be treated more easily and the chances of survival increase tremendously.

In general, treatment of head and neck cancers take the form of surgery, radiation,chemptherapy, and photodynamic therapy, depending on the type of cancer and health condition of the victim. It is worth noting that the treatments for throat cancer can be harmful to the digestive system as well as other body systems. Radiation therapy can lead to nausea and vomiting, which can deprive a body of vital fluids (although these may be obtained through intravenous fluids if necessary). Frequent vomiting can lead to an electrolyte imbalance which has serious consequences for the proper functioning of the heart. Frequent vomiting can also upset the balance of stomach acids.

Filed Under: Head and Neck Cancer

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