Oral, Head & Neck Cancer

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.

Oral, Head & Neck Cancer

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.)

National Cancer Institute:

American Cancer Society: