How are head and neck cancers identified and treated? Are they preventable?
Head and neck cancers are identified by doing physical examinations and imaging tests, and can be prevented by quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol consumption and maintaining a good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle.
Head and neck cancers may go unidentified at early stages as their symptoms are mild. Cancer of the nasal passages and middle ear are more difficult to diagnose. A painless lump that appears in the neck may be the first sign of cancer of the throat, mouth, thyroid gland, and voice box. Such lumps need medical attention if they last for more than 2 weeks. A painless sore or swelling in the mouth or tongue, blood stained saliva or phlegm, difficulty in swallowing solid food, skin changes such as a pale patch that gradually enlarges into an ulcer that does not heal, and continuous pain in the ear while swallowing are signs of head and neck tumors that require evaluation by an otolaryngologist.
A careful physical examination coupled with blood tests, imaging tests such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), tomograms, arteriograms, endoscopy, and biopsy aid the precise diagnosis and development of a suitable treatment plan.
Management of head and neck cancer involves surgical treatment, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of all three approaches. After surgical removal of the tumor, restoration of functions such as speech and swallowing are considered. Plastic surgery and speech therapy may be required following the surgical removal of head and neck tumors.
Head and neck cancers can be prevented by: quitting use of tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco or snuff, and avoiding alcohol consumption. Maintaining good oral hygiene is important as it contributes to your overall well-being. Eat a balanced, nutritious diet rich in fruits containing vitamins C and E. If you notice any lump, sore, or discolored area on the skin that does not go away within 10-20 days, please consult your doctor immediately.