Head and Neck Cancer

Introduction

Head and neck cancer includes cancers in the nose, lip, tongue, mouth and throat, and salivary glands.

It is mainly caused by smoking, including second-hand smoking. The habit of tobacco chewing and betel nut chewing in certain parts of the world also increases the risk for cancer. Heavy alcohol intake also predisposes individuals to this kind of cancer.

Other risk factors include poor dentition and ill-fitting dentures causing regular trauma to the mouth lining.

Symptoms

Different individuals may present with different symptoms and not all symptoms in the list will affect every individual. Some of these may include:

  • Non-healing mouth or tongue ulcers
  • New persistent lumps in any part of the mouth including the gums
  • New persistent lumps below or behind the ears, and in the neck
  • Dentures that cause discomfort or do not fit well
  • Persistent nosebleeds
  • Difficulty chewing  and swallowing
  • Changes in voice quality or volume
  • Changes in speech or difficulty moving the tongue

These symptoms are not specific and may also be caused by a variety of other reasons. Rather, it is the constellation of symptoms that your doctor will assess before planning further investigations. It will be best to speak to your doctor if you are concerned with any of these.

Diagnosis

Early and rapid diagnosis is vital because the sooner you can be treated, the better the chance to kill the cancer before it gets larger or spread further. Typically this will involve a number of tests which can be arranged together to ensure treatment can be started as soon as possible once the diagnosis is confirmed.

These will include baseline blood tests to check your body function and fitness for therapy, full examination of the nasal and oral cavities including the throat and voice box. A biopsy may be done if a tumor is visualized during the examination. Imaging which may involve one or more scans may be done to check if the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.

Treatment Options

We offer all the up-to-date treatment options in keeping with the latest advances. We will discuss the best options available based on the staging of the cancer with every individual. No two cancers are the same and no two individuals are the same. Therefore the treatment should also be highly personalized.

Treatments option for head and neck cancers may include one or more of the following modalities:  Surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or chemoradiation concurrently.

The choice and sequence of the therapies will be planned at the outset to ensure the best outcome for your cancer.

Prevention

Head and neck cancers can be effectively prevented by lifestyle modifications. This includes:

  • Stopping smoking.
  • Ensuring proper fitting of dentures. Regular dental checks.
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol consumption
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Reducing intake of salted fish and meat
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