Head and Neck Cancer (Part I) – Types and Symptoms

A Brief Introduction

As Wikipedia suggests, Head and neck cancer can be defined as “a group of biologically similar cancers that start in the lip, oral cavity (mouth), nasal cavity (inside the nose), paranasal sinuses, pharynx, and larynx.” In simpler terms, Head and Neck cancer can be defined as malignant tumors originating in the head and neck areas, such as the throat, windpipe,  larynx, sinuses and mouth, that grow at uncontrollable rates and spread to other parts of the body. Most head and neck cancers (around 90%) are squamous cell carcinomas and originate from epithelial tissues, later spreading to lymph nodes in the neck.


Head & Neck Cancer
Head & Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer – Types

Based on the organ of origin, Head and Neck cancer is diagnosed as five types. Each of these parts is vital to the normal functioning of the upper body. Although it is notable that all types of head and neck cancer originate in the epithelial tissues of the afflicted organ.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Nasopharynx is the region where the nasal cavities are connected to the upper part of the throat. Despite being classified as a kind of head and neck cancer, Nasopharyngeal Cancer is diagnosed and treated as a separate kind of cancer by oncologists.

Nasopharyngeal Cancer
Nasopharyngeal Cancer

2   Salivary Gland Cancer

One of the rare tumors arising in the head and neck area which causes production of carcinogens in the salivary glands in the mouth.

Salivary Gland Cancer
Salivary Gland Cancer

3   Laryngeal Cancer

The Larynx, or the voice box, is a tube shaped organ responsible for breathing, swallowing and talking. In case of Laryngeal Cancer, carcinogens may attack the vocal folds or the tissues below the true cords. Laryngeal cancer is mostly caused by tobacco smoking.

4   Oropharyngeal or Oral Cancer

Probably the most commonly occurring cancer, oral cancer afflicts tongue, tonsils, floor of the mouth and throat. Oropharyngeal cancer is mostly attributed to tobacco chewing and heavy alcohol consumption.

Oral Cancer
Oral Cancer

Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer

As in the case with other types cancers, the symptoms of Head and Neck cancers are seldom visible until the cancer has reached a serious stage. Early signs may include enlarged lymph nodes, hoarse sounding baritone and chronic sore throat. Swallowing food and saliva becomes painful and earache are other giveaways. Here is a list of other symptoms that could lead to diagnosis of head and neck cancers, hopefully early enough:


  • Mass in the neck
  • Neck pain
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Sinus congestion
  • Bad breath
  • Sore tongue
  • Painless ulcer or sores in the mouth that do not heal
  • White, red or dark patches in the mouth that will not go away
  • Chronic Earache
  • Unusual bleeding or numbness in the mouth
  • Lump in the lip, mouth or gums
  • Slur in speech
  • Hoarse voice and sore throat which persist for more than six weeks
  • Painful swallowing food
  • Change in diet or weight loss

Part II of this post will explain the causes and treatments for Head and Neck Cancer, besides information on important terms such as Lymphomas, Mouth, Nasal, Sarcomas and Adenocarcinomas.

Read more on Cancer Treatment in India ]

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