With over 600,000 people diagnosed worldwide each year, head and neck cancers are the sixth most common type of cancer. 90% of these cancers are squamous cell carcinomas that develop in the moist, mucosal surfaces of the mouth, nose, and throat.¹
Head and neck cancers can begin in the sinuses, in and behind the nose, on the tongue, gums, and the roof of the mouth. They also occur in the pharynx, larynx (voice box), on the lips, and, in rare instances, in the salivary glands.
What are the symptoms?
While symptoms of head and neck cancers vary according to the subsite of the disease, here are some general signs to look for
- a white or red sore in the mouth that won’t heal
- unexplained bleeding or pain in the mouth
- swelling in the jaw
- a lump in the mouth, neck, or throat
- frequent nosebleeds
- chronic sinus infections that do not get better with treatment
- persistent sore throat
- a change in voice
- trouble breathing or speaking
- pain in the neck, throat, or ears
- difficulty swallowing
- numbness in the tongue or other areas
- loosening of teeth
- issues with dentures
- pain and swelling around the eyes
- pain in the upper teeth
What causes head and neck cancers?
Tobacco and alcohol use are the two major risk factors for developing head and neck cancers. To lower your risk, limit alcohol intake and do not smoke or use tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco.
Human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection, can also lead to head and neck cancers, specifically those in the tonsils, soft palate, and base of the tongue. About 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV. Vaccination and safe sex practices can lower your chances of becoming infected with HPV.²
Other risk factors include the Epstein-Barr virus, radiation treatments, and exposure to UV light or substances like wood dust, formaldehyde, asbestos, nickel, and other chemicals.³