Head and Neck Cancer


Head and Neck Cancer:

Head and neck cancer include cancer of oral cavity as well as cancer of throat ( larynx and hypopharynx). The common etiology which exposes the complete aerodigestive tract to carcinogens are tobacco chewing and cigarette smoking. Tobacco chewing is specially more common in Indian subcontinent and hence the higher incidence of these cancer in our country. Alcohol consumption is an additive factor which increase the likelihood of developing the carcinogenic changes in the mucosal surface of oral cavity. In addition to alcohol and cigarette smoking, the factor that has come into light as the causative agent is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection. Tonsillar and tongue cancer are mainly found to be due to HPV infection. Cancers occurring due to HPV infection are seen in young individuals.

  • Symptoms
  • Treatment

Symptoms of Head and Neck cancer:

Patients usually presents with non-healing ulcer in oral cavity that is persistent for more than three weeks. Cancers of throat present with difficulty in swallowing or hoarseness of voice. Advanced stage tumors present with lump in neck which represents metastasis to neck lymph node.

Diagnostic evaluation:

Diagnosis is made by taking biopsy from the ulcer over tongue or buccal mucosa and confirming on histopathology. Cancer of throat is assessed by endoscopic visualization and taking biopsy from the suspicious lesion. Staging is done by CT scan of head and neck area any suspicion of metastasis can be confirmed by doing PET scan.

Treatment of Head and Neck cancer:

Treatment depends upon the cite of origin of the tumor. For tumors of buccal mucosa and tongue surgery is the preferred option as it entails complete removal of tumor along with proper assessment of staging. In case of cancer of throat ( larynx and hypopharynx), where organ preservation takes precedence radiation is the preferred approach. Chemotherapy is given to potentiate the action of radiation.

Radiotherapy in Head and Neck cancer:

Radiotherapy is the preferred option for throat cancer as it helps in organ preservation and killing the cancer. Radiation is nothing but high energy X-rays and is given along with chemotherapy to potentiate the effect.

Surgical treatment of Head and Neck cancer:

Surgery is the preferred treatment for tongue and buccal mucosa tumors. Reconstruction of the defect is conventionally done using either free flaps or rotation flaps. Surgery offers complete removal of tumor along with proper staging.

Survival I Head and Neck cancer:

Survival depends upon the stage of the tumor for stage I disease 5- year survival is 85-90% which drops down to less than 15% in stage IV.


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