Head and Neck Cancers can affect nasal passages, sinuses, mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), swallowing passages, salivary glands and thyroid gland.
Skin cancers that develop on the scalp, face or neck also may be considered head and neck cancers.
Typical symptoms of head and neck cancers include a lump found on the neck, mouth lesions that do not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice.
What are cancers of the head and neck?
Cancers that are known collectively as head and neck cancers usually begin in the squamous cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck (inside the mouth, nose and throat).
These squamous cell cancers are often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. Head and neck cancers can also begin in the salivary glands. Salivary gland cancers are relatively uncommon. Salivary glands contain many different types of cells that can become cancerous, leading to many different types of salivary gland cancer.
Cancers of the head and neck are categorized by the area of the head or neck in which they begin. These areas are described below:
Oral cavity: Includes the lips, tongue, gums, the lining inside the cheeks and lips, under the tongue, and the hard palate (bony top of the mouth).
Pharynx: The pharynx (throat) is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and leads to the esophagus. It has three parts: the nasopharynx (the upper part of the pharynx, behind the nose); the oropharynx (the middle part of the pharynx, including the soft palate (the back of the mouth), the base of the tongue, and the tonsils); the hypopharynx (the lower part of the pharynx).
Larynx: The larynx, also called the voicebox, is a short passageway formed by cartilage just below the pharynx in the neck. The larynx contains the vocal cords. It also has a small piece of tissue, called the epiglottis, which moves to cover the larynx to prevent food from entering the air passages.
Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity: The paranasal sinuses are small hollow spaces in the bones of the head surrounding the nose. The nasal cavity is the hollow space inside the nose.
Salivary glands: The major salivary glands are in the floor of the mouth and near the jawbone. The salivary glands produce saliva.