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Head and Neck Cancers

At El Camino Health, our ENT doctors offer comprehensive cancer care — including care for cancer that starts in your head and neck.

Head and neck cancer affects as many as 55,000 people in the U.S. each year. This type of cancer can begin in any of these places in the head and neck region:

  • Oral cavity. This area includes the lips and the inside of the mouth.
  • Throat (pharynx). This area includes the top of the esophagus, the tonsils, the back of your tongue and soft palate.
  • Voice box (larynx). The voice box holds the vocal cords and epiglottis, the little piece of flesh that hangs in the back of your throat.
  • Nasal cavity. This area is the passage behind the nose.
  • Paranasal sinuses. This area includes the spaces around the nose and is lined with cells that make mucus.
  • Salivary glands. The glands that make saliva, in the lower part of the mouth near the jawbone.

To lower your risk for cancer, stop smoking, and moderate your alcohol consumption. Smoking is the greatest risk factor for the most common types of head and neck cancer.

If you would like help to stop smoking, call our tobacco treatment specialist with the El Camino Health Lung Nodule Program at 650-940-7301.

Potential Signs and Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer

Although head and neck cancers appear most commonly in people aged 50 to 60, people can get these cancers at any age. It’s important to be aware of the potential signs and symptoms, including:

  • Lump or sore inside the nose, on the lip, or in the mouth that won’t heal.
  • A sore throat that does not go away.
  • Cough or hoarseness that does not go away.
  • Coughing up blood or bleeding in the mouth.
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing.
  • Feeling that something is stuck in the throat.
  • A lump in the neck.
  • Pain in the ear, face, chin, neck, upper back, jaw or upper teeth.

The warning signs for head and neck cancer can be subtle. Many of the above symptoms can be caused by other health problems. If you have these symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor.

Diagnosis of Head and Neck Cancer

When you get an annual checkup, your doctor should look inside your mouth, nose and throat and check for lumps in your neck. Be sure to tell the doctor if you’ve been experiencing symptoms in the head and neck area — such as lumps, sores, pain, coughing or hoarseness. This is especially important if you use tobacco and/or drink alcohol regularly.

If your doctor suspects some type of head and neck cancer, you may be asked to get certain diagnostic tests, such as:

  • Blood and urine tests.
  • HPV (human papillomavirus) test. HPV can infect the mouth and throat and cause cancers of the oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
  • Endoscopy. This is a visual scope inserted through your nose to examine your throat.
  • Tissue sample (biopsy) and lab tests. These may be used to check a lump or tumor.
  • X-rays and scans.

Early diagnosis of head and neck cancer is very important to successful treatment and provides a wider array of treatment options.

Treatment for Head and Neck Cancer

The ENT surgeons with El Camino Health offer an array of treatment options for head and neck cancers. We’re experts in the latest techniques — including laser technology, minimally invasive surgical options and robotic-assisted methods. We collaborate with our nationally recognized oncology team. And if radiation or chemotherapy becomes part of your treatment plan, we work closely with our radiation and medical oncologists.

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