Frequently Asked Questions

Head & Neck cancer refers to a group of cancers that starts within the mouth, nose, throat, larynx, sinuses or salivary glands. Majority of these cancers are a result of tobacco &/ alcohol addiction. Few other causes like HPV,EBV infection, poor oral and dental hygiene, poor nutrition and occupational exposure to chemicals play a minor role. Cancers of head and neck region give symptoms very early and hence can be easily diagnosed in a early stage. An individual using tobacco or its products needs to be very vigilant as there are various pre cancerous conditions before development of cancer which can be diagnosed early and treated giving better results and avoiding fatal outcomes. The outcome of treatment is largely influenced by the stage at which the diagnosis is made. Early diagnosis is the key to successful outcome.

Certain factors can make one person more likely to get head and neck cancer than another person. These are called risk factors. However, just because you have one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get head and neck cancer. In fact, you can have many risk factors and still not develop the disease. On the other hand, you can have no risk factors and still get head and neck cancer.

  • Tobacco use. Smokers are more likely to get head and neck cancer than nonsmokers.
  • Alcohol consumption. Some reports have found people who drink alcohol heavily (2 or more drinks a day) are at an increased risk. Those who smoke and drink heavily are at an even greater risk than people who do not.
  • Gender. Head and neck cancer is 2 to 3 times more common in men than in women.
  • Race. Some types of head and neck cancer are more common among African Americas than among white Americans.
  • Sun exposure. Spending a lot of time in the sun without protecting your skin and lips is linked to cancer in the lip area as well as skin cancer on the face, head, and neck.
  • Certain infections. Some human papillomavirus (HPV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infections are strongly linked to head and neck cancer.
  • Age. People older than age 40 are at increased risk for head and neck cancer.
  • Poor mouth care. Not taking care of the mouth and teeth may increase the risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Poor diet. A diet that is low in some vitamins and minerals might increase the risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Workplace exposures. People exposed to wood dust, paint fumes, asbestos, and some other chemicals appear to be at increased risk for head and neck cancer.
  • Weakened immune system. People whose immune system is suppressed, such as people who have had organ transplants, are at higher risk for some kinds of head and neck cancer.
  • A growth or sore in the mouth
  • A lump in the neck
  • A lump or sore inside the nose that will not heal
  • A sore throat that does not go away
  • Blocked sinuses that will not clear
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Cough or hoarseness that does not go away
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty swallowing, speaking, or breathing
  • Frequent headache or pain around the nose, cheeks, jaws, or forehead
  • Frequent nosebleeds or ones that don’t stop
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness in the face
  • Pain in the ear
  • Swelling of the eyes or under the chin or around the jaw
  • Vomiting

These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other problems. It is important to see a doctor about any symptoms like these so that the problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Head and neck cancer is often difficult to diagnose early because many people only experience mild symptoms. That is why it is so important to see your physician and dentist regularly, especially if you are a smoker or drinker. Three-quarters of all oral cancers can be seen or felt in a physical examination by your physician and many cancerous lesions are detected by dentists. Cancer of the nasal passageways or middle ear may be more difficult to detect.

In addition to a thorough physical examination, your physician also uses blood tests, imaging techniques such as x-rays and magnetic resonance (MRI), tomograms, arteriograms, endoscopy and biopsy to make an accurate diagnosis and develop the most appropriate treatment plan.

Biopsy is the first step in the diagnosis of cancer. There is a myth that after biopsy the cancer spreads.. this is not true. Unless biopsy is done the doctor can’t start the treatment of cancer. So biopsy is must and it’s a very simple office based procedure.

Many people with cancer get a second opinion from another doctor. There are many reasons to get a second opinion. Here are some of those reasons:

  • Not feeling comfortable with the treatment decision
  • Being diagnosed with a rare type of cancer
  • Having different options for how to treat the cancer
  • Not being able to see a cancer expert
Treatment depends on the type of cancer you have, where it is, and its stage. Successful treatment for head and neck cancer often involves surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or any combination of the three. In addition to tumor removal, other goals of successful treatment include restoration of swallowing, eating and speaking functions. Plastic surgery and speech therapy are sometimes required for cosmetic and functional reasons after surgical removal of head and neck tumors.

After surgery the most important thing to consider is nutrition, wound care and physical activity. 

Nutrition:

Your doctor will give you a planning for nutrition support.  The form and consistency of the diet may be guided by your doctor. A diet balanced in carbohydrates, protein and micronutrients is very important for faster recovery.

Wound Care:

Regular bath as per your doctors advice and maintaining oral care and hygiene are very important for local wound healing.

Physical Activity:

The head and neck Physiotherapy for mouth, neck, and shoulder following surgery is required to regain the strength of muscles. Mobility in and around in the house is suggested to improve digestion and moral strength.

The need for radiotherapy and chemotherapy largely depends on the disease/cancer type. In certain cases they are used primarily for treatment like cancers of throat, voice box, food pipe. However, in other they are used if needed after surgery. The main reason to use it after surgery is to control  and reduce the chance of recurrence. Your doctor will guide you regarding its need which is based on the final biopsy report of the cancer surgery.

No. The treatment per se are not threatening. But based on patients general conditions your doctor may explain you the possible risk of complications and side effects of treatment.

This is one of the most common questions asked by cancer survivors. In some cases, cancer can recur or a new cancer can form years or even decades after treatment. One of the goals of the Onco Team is to help patients come to terms with their fears about cancer recurrence so that they can lead productive, fulfilling lives. Another goal is to ensure that survivors realize the importance of periodic check-ups after their last treatment for cancer.

Not all cancers come back. The outcomes of your cancer depend on its aggressiveness which your doctor will explain to you based on the biopsy report. In general cancers in the early stages tend to remain controlled while the advanced staged cancers tend to recur.

There are two simple ways to prevent oral cancer and other types of head and neck cancer – quit using tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco or snuff) and reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption. Although typically associated with lung cancer, tobacco is also the most common cause of cancerous oral lesions, and nicotine is most likely the culprit. High levels of nicotine in chewing tobacco damage the inner lining of the cheeks, giving nicotine and other toxic chemicals easy access to the bloodstream and other parts of the body. Seventy-five percent of all cancerous mouth and throat tumors are related to tobacco and alcohol use. Heavy smokers (more than two packs a day) and heavy drinkers (more than four alcoholic drinks a day) have a seven-times greater chance of developing oral cancer than nonsmokers and nondrinkers.

Staying healthy requires good preventive maintenance. Part of this maintenance includes proper oral hygiene, which is an essential contributor to your overall well-being.

Maintaining good oral hygiene can be achieved by:

  • Reducing excessive use of alcohol
  • Eliminating use of all tobacco products
  • Seeing your dentist twice a year
  • Consulting with your physician if a lump, sore, or discolored area does not heal within 10 to 20 days
  • Wearing well-fitting denture (if you do not have your natural teeth)
  • Adhering to a well-balanced, nutritious diet, which includes fruits, as well as vitamins C and E

This head and neck cancer information is for educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. It has not been designed to replace a physician’s independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient.

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