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Head and neck cancer: Symptoms, detection and treatment

Head and neck cancer: Symptoms, detection and treatment

Head and neck cancer typically originates in squamous cells that are present in the moist and mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck, such as the mouth, nose and throat. This type of cancer is also known as squamous cell cancer.

Symptoms of head and neck cancer

If you have an ulcer in your mouth, it is crucial to pay attention to it. Symptoms of head and neck cancer include:

* Change in voice
* Difficulty eating or swallowing
* Nosebleeds

Head and neck cancer can affect different parts of the body, and the symptoms may vary depending on the location of the cancer. For example, if cancer affects the voice box, the voice may sound different, and there may be difficulty swallowing. Oral cancer may cause ulcers in the mouth or oropharynx, making it difficult to eat. If cancer affects the nose, the nose may become blocked, and there may be nosebleeds. Ear cancer may cause bleeding from the ear, hearing loss, and facial asymmetry.

It is imperative to consult an ENT or head and neck cancer doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Nosebleeds can be a symptom of head and neck cancer. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Screening and diagnostic tests available for early detection of head and neck cancer

Several screening and diagnostic tests are available for early detection of head and neck cancer:

1. To examine the ulcer properly, the doctor opens the patient’s mouth and examines it. The doctor will thoroughly examine the mouth, tongue, buccal mucosa, and oropharynx.

2. A laryngoscopy is performed to examine the voice box or vocal cords with a telescope or fiberoptic laryngoscope, and nasal endoscopy is done to examine the nose.

3. If anything suspicious is found, a biopsy or subsequent CT scan and MRI is done to check for malignancy and how far it has spread. Early detection of cancer increases the likelihood of successful treatment.

CT scan for cancer
You may be asked to undergo a CT scan in case of a head and neck cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Importance of early detection and treatment options for head and neck cancer

In the early stages of head and neck cancer, treatment can be done with only one modality, such as surgery or radiotherapy. For example, stage 1 cancer of the voice box can be treated with radiotherapy or laser, but stage 4 cancer may require removal of the voice box, followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Early diagnosis of cancer reduces the need for extensive treatment, and delay in treatment increases the chances of organ removal, disability, and deformity. Therefore, it is essential to diagnose cancer early.

Early detection of cancer can go a long way in getting you treated quickly. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Challenges in early detection of head and neck cancer and how can we overcome them

One of the biggest challenges in early detection of head and neck cancer is that people often ignore the symptoms and do not seek medical attention until the cancer has reached an advanced stage. Additionally, many general practitioners may not have the expertise to identify this type of cancer. Therefore, raising awareness about head and neck cancer is crucial to promoting early detection and treatment.

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