Symptoms and causes

What is head and throat cancer?

We use the terms 'head and neck cancer', 'head-neck cancer' or 'cancer of the nose, throat and ear area' (ENT cancer) for tumours that arise in the upper respiratory and digestive tract.

  • the oral cavity: lips, tongue, gums, cheek mucosa, mouth floor and palate
  • the nose: the skin of the nostril, the inside of the nose and the nasal or sinus cavities
  • the throat cavity
  • the pharynx (the uppermost portion of the digestive tract, located between the oral cavity and the oesophagus)
  • the larynx and vocal cords

Head and neck cancers can also arise in the salivary glands located in the uppermost portion of the neck. Brain, eye and thyroid tumours are not considered to be head-neck cancers. Rather, we call those, respectively, brain tumours, eye tumours and thyroid tumours.

Most of the head-neck tumours are related to tobacco and alcohol use, though there is an increasing incidence of tumours caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

Symptoms

The following symptoms may indicate a tumour in the mouth, nose, throat or pharynx:

  • and ulcer or wound that does not heal
  • persistent sore throat
  • problems swallowing
  • bleeding from the mouth or nose
  • bad breath
  • a feeling that you have a something stuck in your throat
  • reduced mobility of the tongue or mouth opening
  • a lump on the neck, ear, tooth or headache

With pharyngeal cancer, the following symptoms may be present:

  • persistent hoarseness
  • throat problems (e.g. pain while swallowing or dry throat)
  • cough and radiating pain from the throat to the ear

A large tumour on the pharynx can also cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, a lot of mucous in the throat and problems swallowing.

Diagnosis and treatment

Treatment of head-neck tumours depends on the location and extent of the disease, and the general condition of the patient.

Treatment for a brain tumour may consist of oncological surgery, radiation therapy and targeted therapy.

Treatments for cancer in the head-neck area can be quite invasive because they influence breathing, eating, drinking and speaking. There may also be visible consequences, such as scars on the neck or face. For this reason, the treatment of head-neck tumours is complex and requires a specialised approach from a multidisciplinary team.

Treatment centres and specialisations

Latest publication date: 21/01/2021