Education & Resources
Head & Neck Cancers: Get the Facts
Head & Neck cancers include cancers of the:
- Salivary glands
- Throat (pharynx and larynx)
- Lymph nodes in the neck.
Most Head & Neck cancers begin in squamous cells lining the moist surfaces inside the head and neck; they are often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) of the head and neck.
Head & Neck cancers make up about 3% to 5% of all cancers in the USA with:
- More than 30,000 new cases diagnosed/year
- More than 8,000 deaths/year are due to oral cancer alone
- 5 Year survival rates of about 50%.
Risk factors for Head & Neck cancers include:
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol use
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- In recent years, more than 60% of oropharyngeal cancers are due to HPV.
Celebrities affected by Head & Neck cancers include:
- Humphrey Bogart
- Sammy Davis, Jr.
- Michael Douglas
- Roger Ebert
- Sigmund Freud
- George Harrison
- Bruce Paltrow
- Babe Ruth
- Aaron Spelling
- Rod Stewart
- Peter Tork
- Eddie Van Halen
- Adam “MCA” Yauch.
Common symptoms of Head & Neck cancers include:
- Mouth: A white or a red patch on the gums, tongue or the lining of the mouth; a swollen jaw, bleeding or pain in the mouth
- Nose and sinuses: Clogged sinuses that won’t clear up, chronic sinus infections that don’t respond to antibiotics, nose bleeds, headaches, swollen eyes, pain in the upper teeth
- Salivary glands: Swollen jaw or chin, numbness or paralysis of the face, pain that won’t go away in the face, chin, or neck
- Throat (pharynx): Ear pain, problems breathing or speaking, frequent headaches, pain or ringing in the ears, trouble hearing
- Voice box (larynx): Pain when swallowing, ear pain.
Local treatments often include:
- Surgery to remove tumor and lymph nodes
- Radiation targeting affected area(s).
- Chemotherapy targeting cancer cells that may have spread from the original site
- Combination of treatments.
Typical side effects of treatment may include:
- Hair loss
- Thick nose and throat mucous/secretions
- Loss of interest in food due to:
- Sores in the mouth and throat
- Changes in smell and taste
- Dry mouth due to low/no saliva
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hearing loss.