Head & Neck Cancer

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Head and neck cancers are cancers that occur in the ear, nose, mouth, salivary glands, throat and thyroid. These cancers are grouped and treated together by ENT specialists due to their proximity to each other.

Head & neck cancers constitute 12% of all malignancies in the world, and is the fifth most common cancer type and cause for cancer-related deaths globally.

Symptoms of Head & Neck Cancer

Typical symptoms include a persistent sore throat, swallowing difficulties and a sore in the mouth that will not heal. There are also other specific symptoms associated with head & neck cancers such as, but not limited to:

  • Nose: Blocked nose, nasal discharge, reduced smell
  • Mouth: Voice changes, impared tongue mobility, unexplained bleeding
  • Throat (pharynx): Hoarseness, choking/aspiration, pain/ringing in the ears
  • Voice box (larynx): Trouble breathing or speaking, pain when swallowing or ear pain.
  • Thyroid: Visible neck lump
  • Others: Frequent headaches, facial numbness, pigmented lesions and altered sensations

Causes of Head & Neck Cancer

There are various risk factors associated with head & neck cancers. The main risk factors are related to tobacco (cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) and alcohol consumption. Other risk factors include:

  • Age: Head and neck cancer is more likely to happen in adults aged 50 and above.
  • Gender: Head and neck cancer is 3x more likely to occur in men than in women
  • Viral infections: HPV-positive patients are more likely to have head and neck cancer. Research has shown that the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the Epstein-Baar virus are associated with head and neck cancers.
  • Oral hygiene: Poor oral hygiene, including gum disease, have shown to be linked to oral cavity cancers
  • Smoking tobacco: Smoking cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco is one of the established causes for head and neck cancer.
  • Drinking alcohol: There are increased risks in getting head and neck cancer for those who drink alcohol frequently.
  • Weakened immune systems: Individuals with low immune systems are more likely to contract head and neck cancer.

Diagnosing Head & Neck Cancer

During a visit to a head & neck specialist clinic, ENT doctors will first analyze your medical history. Next, they will conduct a physical examination of your neck, ears, eyes, nose, mouth or throat, depending on your symptoms.

To help doctors determine the presence of cancer and extent of the tumor growth, other tests can be done on the suspected area.

Nasendoscopy: An endoscope is used to examine the nasal cavity, larynx and throat. With the aid of local anesthesia, a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera attached to the end will be inserted down the nose for doctors to look for suspicious growths.

Laryngoscopy: Similar to the previous test, an endoscope is inserted down the throat for doctors to examine the voice box and throat. With the aid of general anesthesia, a biopsy can also be performed on the inner lining of the throat.

Biopsy: Tissue cell samples removed from the nasal cavity and throat will be taken to a laboratory for a closer examination. A pathologist will commonly be able to check for the presence of cancerous cells.

Head and Neck Cancer Treatments

Head and neck cancer treatments can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy or a combination of treatments. The unique treatment plan drawn for each individual patient will depend on factors like where the tumor is located, how advanced the cancer is, the patient’s age, and his/her general health.

Depending on the type of head & neck cancer the patient has, ENT doctors may recommend surgery to remove the cancerous tissue while preserving the functions of the head & neck, like breathing, talking and swallowing, as much as possible.

Risk Associated With Head and Neck Cancer Treatments

All treatments have their risks. Certain side effects associated with head and neck cancer treatments can be temporary, while others may have lasting effects.

Surgery can cause problems with your vocal cords and make it difficult for you to chew, swallow and talk normally. Most patients will improve over time, but there are some whose effects stay permanent.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can cause patients to feel sick and tired, suffer from a loss of appetite, weight loss, and have an increased vulnerability to bleeding and infections.

Consult Leading Head & Neck Specialists in Singapore

At Amandela, we provide subspecialty care that you can trust and rely on throughout your recovery journey. Talk to our leading head and neck specialists to get expert advice and support for cancer treatments today.

Amandela ENT Head & Neck Center Mount Elizabeth Novena
Specialist Centre
38 Irrawaddy Road #10-45/47
Singapore 329563
T: 6694 1990
F: 6694 1992
E:  info@amandela.sg
Biz Reg No. 201210742D

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