Head and Neck Cancer
Cancers that are known collectively as head and neck cancers usually begin
in the squamous cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the
head and neck (for example, inside the mouth, the nose, and the throat).
These squamous cell cancers are often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas
of the head and neck. Head and neck cancers can also begin in the salivary
glands, but salivary gland cancers are relatively uncommon. Salivary glands
contain many different types of cells that can become cancerous, so there
are many different types of salivary gland cancer.
Cancers of the head and neck are further categorized by the area of the
head or neck in which they begin. These areas are described below and
labeled in the image of head and neck cancer regions.
Oral cavity: Includes the lips, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the gums, the lining
inside the cheeks and lips, the floor (bottom) of the mouth under the
tongue, the hard palate (bony top of the mouth), and the small area of
the gum behind the wisdom teeth.
Pharynx: The pharynx (throat) is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind
the nose and leads to the esophagus. It has three parts: the nasopharynx
(the upper part of the pharynx, behind the nose); the oropharynx (the
middle part of the pharynx, including the soft palate [the back of the
mouth], the base of the tongue, and the tonsils); the hypopharynx (the
lower part of the pharynx).
Larynx: The larynx, also called the voicebox, is a short passageway formed by cartilage
just below the pharynx in the neck. The larynx contains the vocal cords.
It also has a small piece of tissue, called the epiglottis, which moves
to cover the larynx to prevent food from entering the air passages.
Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity: The paranasal sinuses are small hollow spaces in the bones of the head
surrounding the nose. The nasal cavity is the hollow space inside the nose.
Salivary glands: The major salivary glands are in the floor of the mouth and near the jawbone.
The salivary glands produce saliva.
What are the symptoms of head and neck cancers?
The symptoms of head and neck cancers may include:
- a lump or a sore that does not heal
- a sore throat that does not go away
- difficulty swallowing
- a change or hoarseness in the voice.
These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions, feel
free to call our Cancer Nurse Navigator to discuss your questions or concerns.
Source: National Cancer Institute
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