Head and Neck Cancers: What You Need to Know

When you think of “cancer,” you likely think of breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, or any of the other more prominently discussed forms of the deadly disease. Yet head and neck cancers “account for nearly 4% of all cancers in the United States.” (source) With the increase in HPV infections and resulting cancer, this number is likely to increase in the coming years. Dr. Vivek Gurudutt discusses how head and neck cancer is diagnosed, treated, and how you can take steps to prevent it.

How Are Head and Neck Cancers Diagnosed?

Like all cancer diagnoses, your first stop is to your primary care doctor, likely to have any of the following symptoms examined:

  • Persistent pain in the ear or throat, or when swallowing
  • Blood coming from your nose or throat
  • Coughing up blood
  • Persistent middle ear fluid in one ear
  • Voice changes
  • Swallowing changes
  • Lumps or bumps that have developed in your neck
  • Any neurological function change (weakness, sensation changes)
  • Fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss

If your primary care doctor suspects cancer in your head and neck, they will likely refer you to an ENT doctor, who will take a closer look. You will likely have imaging tests ordered (CT scan or MRI), which will show where the cancer may be located. If cancer is found, you will then undergo a biopsy and procedure to determine the stage at which your cancer is.

How Are Head and Neck Cancers Treated?

Your ENT doctor will likely perform any surgical treatment required to help combat your head and neck cancer. Depending on the stage and location of your head and neck cancer, you may need to also undergo radiation and chemotherapy. Following your initial treatment(s), you will follow up with your ENT doctor for any resulting issues in your head, neck, ear, nose, or throat and to ensure that the cancer does not progress or return, if in remission.

How Can Head and Neck Cancers Be Prevented?

Because of the cancer’s location in your head and neck, your mouth plays a role in your susceptibility to developing this type of cancer. Consuming alcohol and using tobacco are two of the biggest causes of head and neck cancer in nearly 75% of cases. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is causing increasing numbers of cancer diagnoses, which is why vaccinating children against HPV is so important to their current and future health. Other preventative measures include keeping up with oral hygiene and regular dental exams, protecting yourself from environmental work hazards such as inhaling wood or nickel dust or formaldehyde.

If you or someone in your care was recently diagnosed with head and neck cancer and is seeking care from a trusted ENT doctor in the greater Atlanta area, please contact our office today to schedule an appointment to begin your care. We look forward to working with you to treat your cancer and get you on the road to recovery.