Head and Neck Cancer

Cancer » Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer is one of the most researched diseases worldwide. The cancer covers a wide number of organs of the victim's body and can be fatal if left untreated for a long time. Though the cancer originates mostly in the head and neck, it may spread rapidly to other organs like the lymph nodes, throat, nose, sinus or mouth and cause serious health problems.

About the disease

Head and neck cancer originates mainly in the head and neck. It is difficult to detect the exact location of its origin as the cancer may develop from various areas adjacent to head and neck. A thorough medical examination is necessary to find out the exact origin of the cancerous cells.

Almost 85-90% of the cases detected belong to the category of squamous cell carcinomas. The cancerous cells develop primarily in the squamous cells present on the surface lining of head and neck. This layer of squamous cells is also known as epithelium. Mucosa, a layer formed by moist tissues, is located just below the epithelium. If the cancerous cells restrict themselves to squamous cells, the condition of the disease is known as carcinoma in situ. Invasive squamous cell carcinoma is the condition wherein the cancerous cells move deep into the mucosa and invade the tissues therein. There are a few other conditions like the adenocarcinoma and mucoepidermoid carcinoma. In these conditions, the cancerous cells invade the glandular lining or salivary glands and hamper the cell-growth.

Head and Neck Cancer

The tumor cells can be benign or cancerous. Benign tumors are normally harmless and less aggressive as compared to the malignant or cancerous cells. In benign tumor, the infected cells generally remain in a particular area and do not show any tendency to spread to other areas of the body. Also, benign tumors do not damage healthy tissues or kill live and healthy cells. These tumors are easy to eliminate and the chances of their reappearance are almost nil. On the contrary, the malignant or cancerous cells are highly destructive and their main function is to invade and kill healthy tissues. Tissues play an important role in supplying oxygen and blood to various areas of the body. Killing or damaging these tissues puts a direct impact on sufficient supply of blood and oxygen. Also, the malignant cells have a tendency to kill live cells and replace them by the infected cancerous cells.

Head and neck cancer spreads to other organs of the body mainly because of the presence of the cancerous cells. These cells spread rapidly to other parts of the body through lymph nodes of the neck or the bloodstream. It is difficult to eliminate these cells completely as they have a tendency to recur even after undergoing a reliable treatment. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of head and neck cancer as the cancerous cells mainly target the mucosa layer.

The five common types of the cancer originating in head and neck are salivary gland cancer, nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer, oral and oropharyngeal cancer, laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer, and nasopharyngeal cancer. Various medical examinations can be carried out to detect and cure the disease in its initial stages.

Precautions and indications

Head and neck cancer is one of the severest forms of cancer as it affects the vital organs of your body. Spreading of cancerous cells to throat, mouse or nose can be very painful. You must consult a physician immediately if there is any unexpected and unusual pain or abnormality in the throat, mouth, nose, sinus or any other areas including and adjacent to the head and neck. Difficulty in swallowing food and neck pain are some of the early symptoms of the disease. Presence of tumors may also lead to the formation of lump or mass in the areas near the neck and head. Consistent sores in the throat, unusual discharge or bleeding from nose or mouth and change in the size of lymph glands in the neck area are some other important indications of the presence of malignant cells.

Unusual odor from mouth must be diagnosed immediately. Unexpected weight loss, considerable loss of appetite, regular fatigue and weakness must be taken seriously. The patient suffering from this cancer may also experience pain in jaws or ears and blood in phlegm or saliva. Difficulty while speaking or considerable changes in voice are also some of the important warnings of the development of malignant cells in the mouth and tongue area.

Tobacco chewing and smoking contributes considerably in the development of cancerous cells. Excess alcohol consumption may also lead to the cancer of head and neck. Regular health check- up is recommended for people aged above 40 years as the risk of getting prone to the disease increases with age. A healthy and safe sex-life is a must as the risk of being victim to this cancer increases with the presences of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the body. This virus passes easily from one person to another during unsafe sexual activities. Men are more prone to the disease as compared to women.

A strong immunity system is extremely important to fight the disease. Eat salads, fresh fruits and vegetables regularly to keep yourself healthy and immune. Regular exercise is highly advantageous to maintain a good health. Persons suffering from or treated for laryngopharyngeal reflux disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease are more prone to the disease.

Head and neck cancer can be treated partly or fully depending upon the nature and severity of the infection. Various common tests like the X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI scan), biopsy, endoscopy, computed tomography scan (CT scan) and positron emission tomography scan (PET scan) are available worldwide. In some cases, the urine and blood tests, bone test or ultrasound are also recommended. The most important point to remember is to visit your physician for even the slightest of abnormalities as the cancerous cells spread rapidly and uncontrollably.

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