Head and Neck Cancer

Stages of head and neck cancer

The various types of head and neck cancers discussed in the earlier sections can be divided into five stages according to the extent and intensity of cancer. The type of treatment administered depends on the stage of Head and Neck Cancer that the patient is in. These Head and Neck Cancer stages, along with possible treatments for them are explained below.

Stage 0:

At this stage, abnormal cells are found in the lining of the nasopharynx, larynx, hypopharynx, salivary ducts, lips, and oral cavity or that of the mucous membranes depending on the specific type of cancer. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ. The treatment is usually Surgery to remove the tumorous cells. Possible side effects of Surgery may include permanent change of voice, difficulty chewing or swallowing, difficulty breathing, and disfigurement of the part that has been removed. The 5 year relative survival rate is 92% in such cases.

Stage 1:

Cancer gets progressed into the primary organ such as the nasopharynx, the larynx, the hypopharynx, the lip, nasal cavity, sinus, or the salivary gland and is generally larger than 2 cm. For stage 1 tumors, Surgery is followed by Radiation therapy. Possible side effects of Radiation therapy may include loss of appetite, speech impairment, hypothyroidism, fatigue, nausea, and sore mouth or throat. The 5-year survival rate is between 77 and 99.9 percent.

Stage 2:

The tumor is between 2 and 4 cm large and progress further in this stage, into one or more lymph nodes near the primary organ such as the throat, epiglottis, neck, vocal cords, tongue, soft tissues around the salivary glands, jawbones, skull or the roof of the mouth on the same side as the primary tumor. To deal with stage 2 head and neck cancers, first, the patient must undergo surgery, followed by radiation therapy, and, in some cases, Chemotherapy is also needed. Possible side effects of Chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and infection. The survival rate is around 65 percent in such cases.

Stage 3:

More lymph nodes are affected including the ones on the opposite side of the primary organs and cancer has spread to more organs such as the bottom skull, neck, nearby muscles, larynx, the roof of the mouth, parts of the tongue, tissues under the skin, nearby jawbones, ear canal, and the trachea, depending on the primary type of Head and Neck Cancer. The tumor is generally larger than 4 cm. The prescribed treatment is usually a combination of surgery, radiation, and Chemotherapy. The survival rate of Stage 3 treatment is around 25 percent.

Stage 4:

The tumor has now spread further into the body affecting organs that are far from the primary organ. The 5 year Relative survival rate may be around 52 percent. Stage 4 cancer can be further classified into stage 4A, stage 4B, and stage 4C. They are explained below.

  • Stage 4A: The tumor has spread into the brain, cranial nerves, salivary glands, thyroid cartilage, tissue beyond the larynx, jawbones, skin outside areas of the neck, lower jawbone, skin, and sinus. A combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and Chemotherapy are given as treatment.
  • Stage 4B: The tumor has spread into distant lymph nodes in the lungs, collarbones, armpit, groin, spine, the carotid artery, jawbones, cheek tissues, facial nerves, eye sockets, ear canal and parts of the skull. Here too, Surgery followed by Radiation therapy and Chemotherapy are administered.
  • Stage 4C: At this stage, cancer has spread far beyond the primary organs into the lungs, liver, or bones. A complete cure is not possible, but Chemotherapy may be given to slow down the progression of the tumor.

Besides the Head and Neck Cancer treatment methods discussed above, the patient can achieve full recovery only if treatment is followed by a series of lifestyle changes. This can include changing and improving your diet, getting rid of unhealthy habits like drinking or smoking, introducing exercise and activity into their daily routine, counseling and being part of support groups. This kind of holistic treatment is often called integrative treatment, and it is vital for the Head and Neck Cancer treatment for the recovery process to be effective. Integrative treatment is also necessary for the patients to recuperate from the trauma that the body and mind had undergone.