When anyone hears the “c-word,” it can trigger fear and anxiety. With cancer being the second leading cause of death in the United States, there are valid reasons for those fears. Cancer is a very serious diagnosis, but when paired with early detection and aggressive treatment, it does not have to be a death sentence. Specifically, with head and neck cancers, there may be additional fears, as these cancers can affect vital organ systems such as the brain and breathing systems. However, there are several treatment options for head and neck cancers, including, but not limited to, surgical options.
Risks, Signs & Types of Head & Neck Cancer
First, let’s examine the risk factors, signs, and types of head and neck cancers that can occur.
Cancer is a tricky disease in that it does not necessarily have specific risk factors to avoid. Some patients get cancer and do not engage in known risk factors, have genetic predisposition, nor have any pre-existing conditions. Unfortunately, cancer is not specific in that way. However, there are some risk factors that, when engaged in or contracted, can increase your likelihood of being diagnosed with head and neck cancers:
- Tobacco and alcohol use
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Types of Head & Neck Cancers
There are several types of head and neck cancers. Below are just a few of the most prevalent types:
- Laryngeal/Hypopharyngeal Cancer
- This type of cancer affects the larynx, also known as the “voice box.” It is essential for talking, breathing, and swallowing, and is location at the top of the windpipe. Hypopharyngeal cancers affect the hypopharynx which is in the lower part of the throat that surrounds the larynx.
- Oral/Oropharyngeal Cancer
- This type of cancer affects the oral cavity, or mouth and tongue. Oropharyngeal cancer can also affect the entire throat area.
- Nasal Cavity/Paranasal Sinus Cancer
- This type of cancer affects the area behind the nose in which air passes. Paranasal cancer can also affect the areas that surround the nasal cavity.
- Nasopharyngeal Cancer
- This type of cancer affects the nasopharynx, which is the air passage in the upper throat behind the nose.
- Salivary Gland Cancer
- This type of cancer affects the salivary gland that produces saliva, assisting in digestion.
Signs to Look For
Early diagnosis and intervention are key to a good prognosis. With head and neck cancers, there are specific signs to look out for, especially if you are genetically pre-dispositioned or engage in any of the risk factors listed. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is important that you follow-up with your doctor as soon as possible.
- Lump in the neck, jaw, or mouth
- Neck pain
- Weakness in the face
- Difficulty moving jaw
- Mouth ulcers
- Difficulty swallowing
- Trouble breathing
- White or red patches in the throat or mouth
- Sore throat
- Speech problems
- Weight loss
Head & Neck Cancer Treatment Options
If your doctor has diagnosed you with a head or neck cancer, you have several treatment options available to you. Radiation and/or chemotherapy treatment can be used to destroy the cancer cells in specific areas of your body. If you are diagnosed with a thyroid cancer, radioactive iodine therapy can be used to shrink or kill the thyroid cells. Also, you have surgical options available depending on the location and stage of your cancer. The following may be surgical options that your oncologist suggests to you:
- Laser surgical treatment
- This surgical option is ideal for cancers in early stages of development, especially when found in the larynx.
- This surgical treatment aims to remove the cancerous tumor and some surrounding tissue.
- Lymph node dissection
- This surgical option is used when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. These are then removed from the neck, and an excision is usually done as well.
- Reconstructive surgery
- This surgical treatment is used when the cancer aggressively affects tissues such as the jaw, skin, mouth, or other vital organs that needed to be partially or fully removed. This treatment aims to restore the patient’s appearance and/or use of those areas of the body/organs.
Cancer, especially head or neck cancers, can be a scary diagnosis, but there are several treatment options available to patients at various stages of development with various levels of aggressiveness. If you wish to discuss your surgical options or otherwise with a specialist, contact Camellia ENT!