Head & Neck Cancer
The possibility of head or neck cancer is something the providers here at ENT Specialty Care take very seriously. Fortunately, with early detection, our skilled physicians can get to work on your treatment faster. If you’ve been referred to our clinic for such care, we will work closely with your primary physician to communicate your treatment options and collaborate on your full recovery plan.
What can I do?
With more than 60,000 people developing this kind of diagnosis in the United States each year, head and neck cancer is well researched and treatable. ENT Specialty Care offers the complete spectrum of head and neck surgeries and treatments for the thyroid, parathyroid, parotid, nasal area, throat, skin, and lymph nodes.
Our physicians work closely with other experts in a multidisciplinary fashion to provide the highest level of care. These key members of our team include oncologists, endocrinologists, dermatologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, and a variety of rehabilitation specialists.
Cancer of the head and neck is curable if caught early. Fortunately, most head and neck cancers produce early symptoms. You should know the possible warning signs so you can alert your doctor to your symptoms as soon as possible. Remember—successful treatment of head and neck cancer can depend on early detection. Knowing and recognizing the signs of head and neck cancer can save your life.
A lump in the neck.
Cancers that begin in the head or neck usually spread to lymph nodes in the neck before they spread elsewhere. A lump in the neck that lasts more than two weeks should be seen by a physician as soon as possible. Of course, not all lumps are cancer. But a lump (or lumps) in the neck can be the first sign of cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box (larynx), thyroid gland, or of certain lymphomas or blood cancers. Such lumps are generally painless and continue to enlarge steadily.
A change in voice.
Most cancers in the larynx cause some change in voice. Any hoarseness or other voice change lasting more than two weeks should alert you to see your physician. An otolaryngologist is a head and neck specialist who can examine your vocal cords easily and painlessly. While most voice changes are not caused by cancer, you shouldn’t take chances. If you are hoarse for more than two weeks, see your doctor.
A growth in the mouth.
Most cancers of the mouth or tongue cause a sore or swelling that doesn’t go away. These sores and swellings may be painless unless they become infected. Bleeding may occur, but often not until late in the disease. If an ulcer or swelling is accompanied by lumps in the neck, be very concerned. Your dentist or doctor can determine if a biopsy (tissue sample test) is needed and can refer you to a head and neck surgeon to perform this procedure.
Bringing up blood.
This is often caused by something other than cancer. However, tumors in the nose, mouth, throat or lungs can cause bleeding. If blood appears in your saliva or phlegm for more than a few days, you should see your physician.
Cancer of the throat or esophagus (swallowing tube) may make swallowing solid foods difficult. Sometimes liquids can also be troublesome. The food may “stick” at a certain point and then either go through to the stomach or come back up. If you have trouble almost every time you try to swallow something, you should be examined by a physician. Usually a barium swallow x-ray or an esophagoscopy (direct examination of the swallowing tube with a telescope) will be performed to find the cause.
Changes in the skin.
The most common head and neck cancer is basal cell cancer of the skin. Fortunately, this is rarely a major problem if treated early. Basal cell cancers appear most often on sun-exposed areas like the forehead, face, and ears, although they can occur almost anywhere on the skin. Basal cell cancer often begins as a small, pale patch that enlarges slowly, producing a central “dimple” and eventually an ulcer. Parts of the ulcer may heal, but the major portion remains ulcerated. Some basal cell cancers show color changes. Other kinds of cancer, including squamous cell cancer and malignant melanoma, also occur on the skin of the head and neck. Most squamous cell cancers occur on the lower lip and ear. They may look like basal cell cancers and, if caught early and properly treated, usually are not much more dangerous. If there is a sore on the lip, lower face, or ear that does not heal, consult a physician. Malignant melanoma classically produces dense blue-black or black discolorations of the skin. However, any mole that changes size, color, or begins to bleed may be trouble. A black or blue-black spot on the face or neck, particularly if it changes size or shape, should be seen as soon as possible by a dermatologist or other physician.
Constant pain in or around the ear when you swallow can be a sign of infection or tumor growth in the throat. This is particularly serious if it is associated with difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness, or a lump in the neck. These symptoms are best evaluated by an otolaryngologist.
This is the most preventable cause of head and neck cancer deaths. In the United States, up to 200,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses. The good news is that this figure has decreased due to the increasing number of Americans who have quit smoking. The bad news is that some of these smokers switched to smokeless or spit tobacco, assuming it is a safe alternative. This is untrue—they are merely changing the site of the cancer risk from their lungs to their mouth. While lung cancer cases are down, cancers in the head & neck appear to be increasing.
Identifying High Risk of Head & Neck Cancer
As many as 90 percent of head and neck cancers arise after prolonged exposure to specific factors. Use of tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff, or vaping) and alcoholic beverages are closely linked with cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box and tongue. To put it another way, cancer of the mouth and throat are nearly non-existent in adults who neither smoke nor drink. Prolonged exposure to sunlight is also linked with cancer of the lip and is also an established major cause of skin cancer.
What You Should Do
All of the symptoms and signs described here can occur with no cancer present. In fact, many times complaints of this type will be due to some other condition. But you can’t tell without an examination. So, if they do occur, see your doctor to be sure.
REMEMBER: When found early, most cancers in the head and neck can be cured with relatively little difficulty. Cure rates for these cancers could be greatly improved if people would seek medical advice as soon as possible. So play it safe. If you think you have one of the warning signs of head and neck cancer, see your doctor right away.
BE SAFE: See your doctor early! And practice health habits which will make these diseases unlikely to occur.
My daughter Vanessa can finally speak and hear because of Dr. Berman! I would recommend anyone with children who are concerned about their child’s hearing or speech delay to go see him. Not only is he a great Physician, he is also great with kids which makes the visit go a lot smoother.”Nina R.
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