Head and neck cancers can be found in the nasal cavity, oral cavity, salivary glands, pharynx, and/or lymph nodes. Poor oral hygiene, heavy tobacco usage, alcohol consumption, and eating foods with high salt content are risk factors that can cause these cancers. To diagnose head and neck cancers, doctors evaluate a person’s medical history, conduct physical tests, and examine tissues.
Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer
Getting checked is important before making conclusions. Initial signs of head and neck cancers are similar to other illnesses. Symptoms include:
- Swelling under the chin, jawline, and eyes
- Unusual bleeding in the mouth and nose
- White or red patch on gums and lips
- Trouble breathing and/or speaking
- Ringing in the ears
Knowing the cancer’s status is essential in determining the right treatment plan. Hence, patients need to undergo these diagnostic tests, depending on the probable location of the tumor:
- Physical exam/blood and urine test
- X-ray/barium swallow
- Molecular testing of the tumor
- CT Scan
- Bone scan
These procedures will provide the answers to a series of guide questions from the TNM system.
Tumor: How big is it? Where is it located?
Node: Has it affected the lymph nodes? If so, where and how many?
Metastasis: Has the cancer spread to other parts of the body? If so, where and how much?
To confirm the stage of the tumor, patients might need to undergo more cancer-specific tests.
Found on the nose, mouth, and neck area are about nine (9) types of cancers. When these reach an advanced stage, it can spread and affect other parts of the body. Treatment is dependent on the cancer type:
- Lip and Oral Cavity
- Metastatic Squamous Neck Cancer with Occult Primary
- Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity
- Salivary Gland
Factors to Consider for Treatment
Head and neck cancers affect the body’s main entryways. Which is why it is important to take note of one’s eating, talking, and even breathing habits. Treatment for head and neck cancers come in the form of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted therapy. Each treatment poses possible side effects that patients must be prepared for.
Types of Procedures
This procedure removes the tumor and guarantees the health of the surrounding tissue. If the cancer is still in its early stages, patients can undergo laser surgery. Excision is the removal of the tumor as well as some of its surrounding tissue. If neck cancer has spread, neck dissection might be needed; the removal of the lymph nodes apart from the actual tumor. Patients might need to undergo reconstructive surgery to replace missing tissue i. Post-surgery assistance is offered to help patients adjust and relearn eating, swallowing, and talking after surgery. Speech pathologists also help in adjusting back to their normal routine and movement.
High-energy x-rays or other particles are used to destroy cancer cells, and this is done in a specific number of sessions over a set period of time. The kind of radiation treatment will depend on the patient’s condition. This can be the main treatment or it can be done after excision. While some side effects to this procedure may be prolonged, many of these go away as soon as the treatment is finished. Side effects of radiation therapy may include the following:
- tooth decay (oral oncologists will check the patient first before undergoing therapy)
- short or long-term swallowing pain
- change in the sense of taste
- skin irritation
- Thickened saliva
- Hearing loss
- Earwax buildup
- Fibrosis (scarring)
Intravenous chemotherapy and oral chemotherapy a pill are the common ways to receive this treatment. The dosage, schedule, and medication all depend on the cancer’s stage. Side effects include vomiting, loss of hair, diarrhea, infection, and loss of appetite. Similar to radiation therapy, chemotherapy has side effects, all of which go away after treatment.
For most types of head and neck cancer, blocking the tumor’s epidermal growth factor receptor can help stop or slow down the growth of the cells. To do this, it focuses on cancer’s genes, proteins, and its environment to attack the growth and survival of cancer cells. Other types of targeted therapy target specific metastasized cancer genes that cannot be treated through surgery.
Instead of directly attacking the tumor, this procedure boosts the body’s capability to fight back. Oncologists prescribe various immunotherapy drugs according to the type of disease being treated. Additionally, if certain procedures have not been effective enough, patients undergo immunotherapy.
Treatment side effects have a big impact on the patient’s ability to endure the treatment. Which is why patients may receive palliative care as soon as they begin their treatment. This can even reduce the severity of the symptoms and improve their quality of life. Options include relaxation techniques, diet change, group therapy, and medication.
ManilaMed’s Cancer Care Center has state-of-the-art equipment and highly trained medical professionals that will make sure that you get the best care and assistance for your healing journey. Schedule an appointment with our doctors and contact us at (02) 523-8131.