Arizona Blood & Cancer Specialists Logo

Oral, Head, & Neck Cancer

A graphical image of a person showing the insides of their neck and head; a section of their throat is highlighted in orange

Cancer cells that develop in the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity and salivary glands.

Some risk factors for head and neck cancer include:

Tobacco: Smoking and other tobacco products can greatly increase this risk of developing cancers in the head and neck. This includes marijuana use.

Alcohol: Frequent and heavy use of alcohol has been linked to the disease. The combined use of alcohol and tobacco further increases the risk.

Age: Chances of being diagnosed with head or neck cancer increase with age, being more common in those age 40 and older.

Family history: Some inherited genetic syndromes can increase a person’s risk.

Medical history:

  • A weakened immune system can increase a person’s risk.
  • The Epstein Barr Virus and the Human Papilloma Virus are also risk factors for some types of head and neck cancer.
  • Poor oral hygiene and dental health may also increase one’s risk.

Gender: Both men and women can be diagnosed with head or neck cancer, but men have double the risk of developing this disease.

Poor Nutrition: Diets that don’t include enough vitamins A and B can raise a person’s risk.

Exposure: Certain workplace exposures, chemical or radioactive elements, particularly those that can be breathed in put a person at a greater risk, especially for nasal or paranasal sinus cavity cancer. Prolonged sun exposure to unprotected skin is also a risk factor.

Signs & Symptoms

They are different for each patient. It’s important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your physician.

  • The most common symptoms are swelling and sores that don’t heal
  • Lumps, or masses in the head and neck area(s). Some can cause pain, but not all do

  • Sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • Persistent red or white patches in the mouth
  • Voice changes or hoarseness
  • Painful chewing or swallowing
  • Jaw pain, or pain when moving the tongue
  • Unusual blood in the saliva or mucus that drains into the mouth.
  • Ear pain or ear infections
  • Loose teeth or dentures that don’t fit any longer
  • Fatigue

Screening & Diagnostic Testing

A complete physical exam and medical history should be done. The exam will check for any unusual physical signs. A complete medical history is also important to fully understand a person’s health habits, family history, previous illnesses, and past exposure.

Having your dentist perform regular dental checkups is also a very important screening for head and neck cancer.

Additional testing may include:

  • Indirect pharyngoscopy and laryngoscopy
  • Direct (flexible) pharyngoscopy and laryngoscopy
  • Panendoscopy (includes laryngoscopy, esophagoscopy, and (at times) bronchoscopy
  • Imaging: X-Ray, CT, MRI, PET-CT
  • Biopsy
  • Exfoliative cytology
  • HPV testing
  • Barium swallow
  • Blood tests (not used to diagnose cancer, but to diagnose overall health, or to determine if cancer has spread to the liver or bones.)