Head and neck cancers collectively refer to cancers that can affect parts of the head, the nose, the throat, and the mouth. It begins by affecting the mucosal surfaces of these organs, particularly the squamous cells and can later spread and affect parts of the skin, liver, breasts, lymph nodes, genitalia, lungs, liver, and bones, the process of which is called metastasis.
However, thanks to modern medicine, cancer research is a well-established and fast-progressing field, and there are many treatment options available to patients nowadays. The survival rate of Head and Neck Cancer patients has gone up in recent years, and there is more awareness of its prevention. Knowledge of the different types of head and neck cancers, their causes and symptoms, and prevention methods are key to evading or managing it properly and effectively.
Head and neck cancer primarily affects the following parts of the upper body.
There are several different types of head and neck cancers that can arise, affecting the different parts of the head, neck, and throat listed above. Broadly, they can be classified as:
Throat cancer is a carcinoma that affects several parts of the throat, such as the pharynx, larynx, and tonsils. It can be further classified as
Laryngeal cancer affects the larynx or the voice box along with the vocal cords. They are further classified into
It affects the squamous cells that line parts of the mouth that includes lips, mouth, gums and tongue, but it can go deeper into the inner tissues of the mouth.
It affects the areas near the nose, such as the nasal cavity as well as the paranasal cells of the sinuses.
In salivary gland cancer, malignant cells form in the tissues of the salivary glands.
In order for the Head and Neck Cancer treatments to be effective and to increase the chances of survival, early detection is the key. It is vital to know the early signs of head and neck cancers to be able to carry out the necessary tests and detect them early on in the progression of cancer.
In general, Head and Neck Cancer symptoms include sore throat, Pain in the mouth, lumpiness in the cheeks, trouble swallowing or chewing, changes in the voice, and more. Let us look at the symptoms of the different types of Head and Neck Cancer in detail.
The symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer are:
The symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer are
The symptoms of hypopharyngeal cancer are
The symptoms of glottic, subglottic and supraglottic cancers are
The symptoms of the lip and oral cavity cancer are
Symptoms of cancer in the nasal and sinus cavities are
Signs and symptoms of salivary gland cancer are
The precise causes of Head and Neck Cancer are not exactly known. Generally, it is seen that people who smoke, consume alcohol, chew paan (or betel quid), are exposed to certain radiations and chemicals, eating salted foods tend to develop head and neck cancers more. Read more for a more comprehensible list of risk factors associated with each type of Head and Neck Cancer.
The risk factors associated with head and neck cancers are mostly related to lifestyle. They can be prevented by staying away from lifestyle choices that increase the risk of getting cancer. It is also seen that these risk factors also affect the recurrence and survival probabilities of patients. We do not yet know the exact causes of the various head and neck tumors, but knowing the risk factors can go a long way in preventing and fighting cancer. The various risk factors associated and causes of head and neck cancers are discussed below.
The best way to prevent head and neck cancers is to avoid lifestyle choices that increase the risk of getting these cancers. A healthy lifestyle, free from Alcohol and nicotine, will ultimately lead to a disease-free and peaceful life. For those who are exposed to risk factors by way of occupational hazards, awareness is the key. Be aware of all the early signs and symptoms of the head and neck cancers and conduct physical examinations regularly. Check the inner portions of the mouth, tongue, gums, ears, nasal cavity, sinus and throat for any lumps or discolorations. If you notice any lumps or soreness or Pain in any of the above areas, especially if you have a family history with the head and neck cancers, go to the doctor or a specialist immediately. The earlier the cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat it, the more effective the treatment and higher the chances of recovery it would be.
There are different methods of Head and Neck Cancer diagnosis. They are elaborated below.
There are several methods available in modern medicine for the treatment of Head and Neck Cancer. Usually, two or more of these are done in progression to ensure that the tumor cells are completely destroyed. The time the treatments take, the dosages of drugs and radiation vary from patient to patient; based on the stages of head and neck cancer, the tumor has progressed to. The major treatments for Head and Neck Cancer and their possible side effects are explained below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The stage in which all the primary signs and symptoms of cancer—in this case, head and neck cancer—have disappeared, post treatment is called remission. Scans will show no trace of any tumors or cancerous cells. Despite this, it is imperative for survivors to undergo regular check-ups and physical exams, even after the treatment is completed.
The chances of cancer returning (called recurrence) are high, and the risk always remains. These scans and check-ups may be required for years following remission, depending on the gravity of each individual's condition as well as the doctor's prescription. It is also important to ensure a healthy and cancer proof lifestyle during remission by avoiding habits and lifestyle choices that increase the risk of getting head and neck cancers at all costs.
Another aspect of life in remission is the patient's mental health. Battling cancer is a rather traumatic and life-altering experience, and so it ends up taking a heavy toll on the patient's mind along with the body. The Stress and Anxiety and mental torment one goes through during the disease may remain long after the body has healed and entered remission. This is why emotional support and care is necessary for those who are in remission.
The key to prevent and fight the growth of cancer in your body is to nourish it with nutritious foods that can fight them off and inhibit their growth. Be sure to have a balanced diet and take supplements whenever necessary.
Being fit is another key factor in fighting off cancer. A healthy lifestyle includes not only a good diet but also exercise and physical activity. Being active is also vital to have a fast and easy recovery, and to live a longer and healthier life.
Fear and worry have never cured any disease, and so we need to stay calm in the phase of cancer. Know that when cancer is detected early and treated with the right treatment, cancer is very much manageable. By keeping yourself fit and healthy, recovery also becomes less of a hassle. In any case, know that cancer research, diagnosis, and treatment methods are progressing every day, and the chances of survival are much higher with each passing year. There is hope.
Prevention is better than cure, and so be sure to keep your family and your home away from cancer by adopting healthy lifestyle choices as early as possible. Make efforts to quit on bad habits like smoking and drinking Alcohol which are major risk factors associated with head and neck cancers. Stop using products and food items that contain harmful chemicals and known carcinogens. Read and do more research into the various ingredients and chemicals that go into the foods and products we use every day.
In difficult times, finding a community that you can relate to and that understands you is vital to get you through the drawn-out process of Head and Neck Cancer treatment and recovery. The relief and support they provide are invaluable. ZenOnco.io puts Head and Neck Cancer patients in touch with these communities so that they can share and learn about each other's experiences and offer support. Visit ZenOnco.io and get connected to our support community and learn more about our wellness programs. Let us help you win over this battle against cancer.