Head and neck cancer is among the most preventable types of cancer. Early detection provides the highest chance of successful treatment. If you think you have one of the warning signs of head and neck cancer, contact a specialized head and neck surgeon like Dr. Leeman.
Symptoms of head and neck cancer
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 warrants a visit to Dr. Leeman. 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, voicebox (larynx), thyroid gland, or of certain lymphomas or blood cancers. Such lumps are generally painless and continue to enlarge steadily.
Change in the voice – Most cancers in the larynx cause some changes in voice. If your hoarseness or other voice change lasts more than two weeks, call our physician. Dr. Leeman can examine your vocal cords easily and painlessly. While most voice changes are not caused by cancer, you shouldn’t take chances.
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, contact our physicians as soon as possible.
Bleeding – 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, set an appointment with one of the physicians at The Comprehensive ENT Center.
Swallowing problems – Cancer of the throat or esophagus 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.
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 Dr. Leeman. 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.
Persistent earache – 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 our ENT specialists.
Lower your risk
As many as 90 percent of head and neck cancers arise after prolonged exposure to specific factors. Use of tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, or snuff) and alcoholic beverages are closely linked with cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, and tongue. In adults who neither smoke nor drink, cancer of the mouth and throat are nearly nonexistent. Prolonged exposure to sunlight is linked with cancer of the lip and is also an established major cause of skin cancer.