Head and Neck Cancer

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A doctor going over the finer points of a diagnosis with a senior couple

Cancer of the head and neck affects more than 55,000 Americans a year and kills an estimated 13,000 people annually.

Learn more about head and neck cancer, including causes, symptoms, and treatment.


Head and neck cancer, which can involve the tissue lining the tongue, throat, nose, or voice box, can have many causes.

Historically, alcohol and tobacco were associated with the majority of cases of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. In recent years, however, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has become well known as a cause of up to 70 percent of cases.

Some other causes or risk factors related to head and neck cancer:

  • Radiation exposure, which can cause salivary gland cancer
  • Overexposure to sunlight, which can lead to cancer of the skin and lips
  • Industrial exposure to certain toxins and dusts, which can lead to nasopharyngeal cancer, cancer of the larynx, or certain other types of cancer
  • Epstein-Barr virus infection, which can potentially cause nasopharyngeal and salivary gland cancer


Detection and Diagnosis

Early detection and treatment increases the chance of a cure, so it’s important to recognize potential symptoms and alert your doctor.

A lump that won’t go away, soreness or swelling that doesn’t subside, a stubborn sore throat, difficulty swallowing, or a change in the voice are all possible symptoms of a head or neck tumor.

A few other signs and symptoms:

  • Blood in your saliva or phlegm, especially if it lasts more than a few days
  • Skin changes, such as unusual patches, moles, or spots, which could indicate basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, or melanoma
  • Ear pain, especially when accompanied by hoarseness, problems with swallowing, or one or more neck lumps
  • Facial paralysis or persistent pain in the face, neck, or chin
  • Chronic sinus infections that don’t clear up with antibiotic treatments

Any of the symptoms might also indicate a noncancerous problem, but it takes a professional evaluation to get to the bottom of it. The evaluation would depend on your symptoms and may include a review of your medical and family history, a physical exam, a microscopic look at selected tissue samples, and other steps.


Treatment for cancers of the head and neck depend on factors ranging from age and overall health to the type and stage of cancer involved, the tumor’s location, and other considerations.

Based on your individual circumstances, treatment could include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy

Most head and neck cancers can be successfully treated, but one of the first steps is getting a professional evaluation. If you are experiencing head or neck problems or want to learn more about cancers of the head and neck, contact the experts at Mountain Home ENT & Allergy today for information or an appointment.

(870) 424-4200