Cancers of the neck and throat most often form in the cells lining the mucosal surfaces of the mouth, nose and throat. Normal cells are squamous (scale-like) in appearance, so these cancers are often dubbed squamous cell carcinomas. About 5-10% of all cancers originate in the neck or throat. Fortunately, they are often curable if caught early, and can often be prevented through implementation of certain lifestyle changes.
Classifying Cancers of the Neck & Throat
Cancers of the neck and throat can affect a variety of areas including the mouth, nose, throat, salivary glands and lymph nodes. They are classified according to their location in the body, and include:
- Oral cavity. The lips, tongue, hard palate, gums and mouth.
- Larynx. This includes the vocal cords and epiglottis.
- Pharynx. The pharynx consists of three sections: the nasopharynx (the upper portion, located behind the nose), oropharynx (the middle section, which includes the soft palate and tonsils), and hypopharynx (the lower portion).
- Paranasal sinuses. The nasal cavity.
- Salivary glands. These are found near the jawbone on the lower portion of the mouth.
Cancer Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of neck and throat cancer may seem mild at first, and hardly anything to worry about. It’s their persistent nature that is cause for alarm. Signs to look for include swollen lymph nodes, sores that don’t heal, hoarseness, neck or throat pain, earache, sinus congestion, bad breath, bleeding from the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and weight loss.
Neck and throat cancers are considered highly preventable, since most cases are caused by tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco will increase your risk of developing cancer in this region significantly. Additional risk factors include alcohol use (especially when coupled with smoking), exposure to industrial toxins, a diet comprised of lots of red meat and processed foods, human papillomavirus (HPV), Epstein-Barr virus and acid reflux.
Treating cancer always depends on the size and location of the tumor(s), their stage of development, and the health of the patient. Surgery and radiation therapy are especially effective against these types of cancers. Chemotherapy, targeted therapy or a combination of treatment methods may be utilized. Cancer is unpredictable, but if caught early, there is a high cure rate for neck and throat cancers.