Head and neck cancers are very varied due to the complex anatomy and histology of these body areas.
The greatest diagnostic and therapeutic difficulties are created by malignant neoplasms which usually originate in the epithelial tissue which lines the upper respiratory and alimentary tract (e.g. cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses and salivary glands). In Poland, cancers of head and neck constitute approx. 12.6% of all head and neck neoplasms. They usually develop topically, however some of them have a great tendency to metastasise regionally, i.e. to the cervical lymph nodes.
Men suffer from cancer almost three times more frequently than women and the peak of incidence falls on the 5th and 6th decade of life. Cancer most often develops in larynx, throat, mouth and tongue. The two most important factors contributing to the development of head and neck cancer include smoking and drinking of high-proof alcohol. These factors are responsible for at least 75% of head and neck cancers. People who drink alcohol and smoke are burdened with significantly higher risk of cancer than the ones who abuse only one of those stimulants. Other risk factors include: poor oral hygiene, viral infections (Epstein-Barr virus, HPV), the mechanical irritation of mucous membranes (e.g. Ill-fitting dentures), exposure to wood dust, substances formed during the refining of nickel, paints, solvents, exhaust fumes of diesel oil.
Cancer symptoms depend on its location. The most frequent complaints and symptoms include:
- Pain when swallowing;
- Nose bleeds;
- Feeling of blocked ear and unilateral hearing impairment;
- Neck tumour.
These symptoms may also be triggered by other, less serious causes. Nevertheless, it is extremely important to have them checked by a qualified physician who has appropriate diagnostic tools.