In most cases surgery is the first line of treatment. Advances in robotics have made it possible to use minimally invasive surgical techniques to remove the tumor.

Head and neck cancers encompass cancers originating in the squamous cells that line the mucosal surfaces inside the mouth, throat, and voice box. These are called squamous cell carcinomas. They are much more common than cancers that begin in salivary glands, sinuses, or muscles or nerves in the head and neck, but the possibility cannot be ruled out. In many cases cancers in the head and neck are directly related to abuse of tobacco products, but there are other aspects such as family/personal medical history, age and ethnicity that need to be factored in as well.


Q:What are the most common symptoms of Head and Neck Cancers?


Ans:A swelling and a sore that refuses to heal, is the first red flag. Other symptoms to watch out for include: sudden onset of hoarseness in voice, a sore throat that does not get better with regular drugs, neck pain, difficulty in swallowing, pain/ bleeding in the mouth, swollen jaw, chronic sinus infection and frequent headaches. As the disease progresses it might even affect speech.


Q:What are the risk factors for Head and Neck Cancers?


Ans:Most head and neck squamous cell carcinomas of the mouth and voice box are caused by tobacco and alcohol use. Having a personal or family history of squamous cell carcinoma, increases the risk as well. Sun exposure increases the chances of lip cancer. Poor oral health and having multiple oral sex partners, are also risk factors. Certain inherited disease, a weakened immune system and Lichen Planus Autoimmune disease – all increases chances of developing head and neck cancers


Q:What are the most common types of Head and Neck cancers?


Ans:There are several types of head and neck cancers. They include: Oral cavity (mouth, tongue), Oropharyngeal (throat, back of the mouth), Nasal cavity, Paranasal sinus, Nasopharyngeal (behind the nose, upper throat area), Laryngeal (voice box), Hypopharyngeal (voice box, lower part of the throat), Salivary gland, Thyroid and Lymphoma.


Q:How are Head and Neck cancers treated?


Ans:A biopsy of the tumor will confirm the cancer diagnosis. Following this the doctor will decide what the best treatment option could be. Size, location and spread of the tumor determines the stage of the cancer and it is based on this that the treatment is designed. In most cases surgery is the first line of treatment. Advances in robotics have made it possible to use minimally invasive surgical techniques to remove the tumor. Surgery is followed by Radiotherapy to kill remnant cancerous cells. In some cases Brachytherapy, a form of Radiotherapy, may also be used to kill small areas of cancer using a technology designed to reduce damage to healthy tissue.


Q:Can Head and Neck cancers spread to other parts of the body?


Ans:Yes, they can. Cancer cells can travel to the lymph nodes or to other organs such as the lungs, liver, bone, kidney, and adrenal glands through blood. This spread of cancer away from the primary site is called metastasis.


Q:While treating oral or throat cancer, can speech or swallowing be affected?


Ans:Oral and throat cancers by themselves cause speech problem, impede jaw movement and difficulty in swallowing. Cancer treatment can also have side effects such as change in voice and swallowing. Exercises for the jaw, and other medications prior to treatment can be continued and will help reduce / manage such side effects.


Q:What kind of lifestyle changes will be required after treatment of Head and Neck cancer?


Ans:Patients who have trouble speaking after treatment will require speech therapy. It will begin while the patient is in the hospital and must be continued upon discharge as well. A consultation with a prosthodontist might be needed to make artificial dental or facial parts. A nutritionist will help chart out a suitable diet plan to help the patient, especially if he/she is having difficulty in chewing and swallowing. It is also a good option to talk to a counsellor or psychologist for any emotional support.


Q:If the cancer has been completely eliminated, does the patient have to come in for follow-ups?


Ans:Definitely. Regular follow-ups are required to make sure the cancer does not recur at the primary site or anywhere else in the body. As in the case of any cancer, catching the disease in its earlier stages makes it easier to treat. Routine check-ups will facilitate this.


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