Head and Neck Cancer Detection

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Head and neck cancer comprises of cancer of oral cancer, salivary glands cancer, cancer of lymph nodes present in the upper part of the neck, larynx (the voice box) cancer, nasal cavity cancer, cancer of sinuses and pharynx cancer (nasopharynx- lower part of pharynx, oropharynx- middle part of pharynx and hypopharynx- upper part of pharynx). One must note that skin cancer, brain cancer, scalp cancer, eye cancer and cancer of bones present in the region of face do not fall under the category of head and neck cancer.

Symptoms of head and neck cancer:

  1. Lump in the throat
  2. Swelling of mouth (oral cancer)
  3. Blockage of nose
  4. Bleeding of nose
  5. Swelling of eye
  6. Difficulty in breathing
  7. Swallowing of food is difficult
  8. Change in the color of the skin
  9. Change in the voice
  10. Constant pain in the ear

Head and neck cancer detection in the early stages of cancer helps in effective cure of the cancer. There are four phases of head and neck cancer- first stage of cancer can be treated easily. Second and third stages of cancer can be treated with different combinations like radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. Fourth stage of cancer is quite difficult to cure. So, when you notice of head and neck cancer symptoms consistently for more than two weeks better get it checked by your doctor. Treatment delayed can be fatal.

Head and neck cancer detection

Head and neck cancer detection involves physical examination, endoscopy, laboratory tests, X-rays, CAT scan or CT-scan, Barium swallow, Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI), PET Scan and biopsy.

  1. Physical examination:

    The physical symptoms listed above can be checked by your doctor. He can examine whether the lumps have developed in neck, lips or gums. Mirrors or lights can be used to examine minute details.

  2. Endoscopy:

    Endoscope is a thin, light tube used to examine internal parts of the body. Endoscopes are available in various types. It depends upon which part of the body is to be examined. If larynx is to be examined, then doctors insert the tube from the mouth. If nasopharynx or lower part of the pharynx is to be examined, then doctors insert the tube through nose so that minute details of nasal cavities can be checked.

  3. Laboratory tests:

    There are various laboratory tests available in the clinic. These tests can prove to be useful in head and neck cancer detection. Blood test or urine test are laboratory tests that check the presence of cancerous cells. E.g. blood test can detect the presence of blood cancer by comparing the blood sample of the patient with the standard substances present in the blood of normal person.

  4. X-rays:

    X-rays use cathode rays to print the image of bones on a film. The cathode rays are passed through the body and image is obtained on a film. X-rays can pass through muscles but cannot pass through bones. Hence, we get the image of bones and fine traces of muscular linings.

  5. CAT-scan or CT-scan:

    CT-scan is similar to X-rays with the only difference that it gives detail pictures of internal bodies of head and neck. It is more useful than X-ray because even minute details are captured in CT-scan but it is not captured in X-ray. X-ray only gives images of bones. CT scan takes pictures from all the angles that give a detailed picture of your internal parts.

  6. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):

    MRI uses radio waves and strong magnets to get a cross-sectional picture of the body. It takes around an hour to get the picture. MRI is especially beneficial in taking pictures of brain and spinal cord. The test reveals pictures of higher quality than CT scan and X-ray.

  7. Barium Swallow:

    As the name suggests, a person is given liquid containing barium in it to swallow. As you swallow the liquid, a good picture of throat appears. The barium coats the internal surface of the throat to get a good and detailed picture of the throat. Hence, the test enables you to see a picture of your throat.

  8. PET scan:

    PET scan can help you in detecting the presence of cancerous cells in the body. You can get to know whether the cancerous malignant cells have spread to the lymph nodes or not. In this procedure, a form of sugar containing radioactive atom is used. When the sugar is put into the vein, after few minutes cancerous cells absorb the sugar. Therefore, sugar gets accumulated in the part where cancer has developed or spread. Special camera helps in finding out the location of this sugar accumulated in the cancerous cells. Hence, it is very useful in head and neck cancer detection.

  9. Biopsy:

    Biopsy is a procedure wherein a tissue is removed from the patient's body and examined to check the presence or growth of cancerous cells. There are two types of biopsies- endoscopic biopsy and fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA). In endoscopic biopsy, the patient is operated when under general anesthesia. Tissues are removed from larynx and hypopharynx which are located deep inside the neck. The tissue is then checked to detect the growth of cancerous cells. In FNA, as the name suggests, a needle is placed in the tumor to remove cells.

    The above are the ways useful in head and neck cancer detection. Remember that early detection of head and neck cancer symptoms lead to successful treatment.

    Take care!

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