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What is head and neck cancer?

The term “Head and Neck Cancer” is applied to cancers in the mouth, throat, salivary glands, thyroid gland, nose and sinuses, and advanced cancers of the skin of the face. These cancers often spread to the lymph nodes (or “glands”) in the neck. 


Head and neck cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the world. Patients with head and neck cancer often present when the tumour is quite advanced.

What are the symptoms of head and neck cancer?

The symptoms caused by these cancers vary, depending on where the cancer arises.


The most common symptoms are –

      - a painless lump in the neck or in front of the ear.

      - a lump or ulcer in the mouth, for example, on the tongue, gum, or inside the cheek.

      - a persistent white or red patch in the mouth.

      - a one-sided sore throat which can be associated with earache.

      - pain or difficulty with swallowing.

      - a hoarse voice, especially in a smoker.

      - difficult or noisy breathing.

      - a lump or sore on the face.

      - numbness or weakness on one side of the face.

      - one sided blocked nose with bleeding.


Many less serious conditions (apart from cancer) can cause these symptoms, but if they persist for more than 3 weeks, you should consult your doctor.

Challenges unique to head and neck cancer

The effects of head and neck cancers can be particularly visible and debilitating. Head and neck cancer treatments can result in significant visual changes to the face, as well as difficulties with eating, drinking and speaking. Despite its prevalence, head and neck cancer also has a relatively low profile compared to other cancer types. All of this combined provides additional challenges and complexities to a patient's diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.

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