Siavash Siv Eftekhari, M.D., DMD


Signs and Symptoms of Oral, Head & Neck Cancer

Signs and Symptoms of Oral, Head & Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancers, not to be confused with brain cancers, account for roughly 4-5% of all cancers in the United States each year. Some the Head and Neck cancer regions can include but not limited to:

  • Oral Cavity and Tongue
  • Jaw
  • Tonsils and Throat
  • Larynx (voice box)
  • Face, Neck, and Scalp Skin
  • Thyroid Gland
  • Salivary Glands including Parotid Gland
  • Sinus and Nasal Structures
  • Other Face and Neck Anatomies

These types of cancers are more than twice as common in men than women and are diagnosed most often among people ages 50 and over. Although the occurrence is increasing a younger population mainly due to HPV virus.

The American Cancer Society estimates that roughly 53,000 people will develop Oral and Oropharyngeal cancer during 2019.

The CDC reports that even the tongue, gums and roof of your mouth can be a starting point for head and neck cancer.

What are the Primary Neck and Head Cancer Causes?

Head and neck cancers can be caused by a variety of environmental or genetic factors, not all which are obvious.

If you find yourself wondering what caused that lump or swelling on your neck or face or inside your mouth, it may be time to see a Dr. Eftekhari at NextGen for a Head & Neck cancer screening.

At least 75% of all head and neck cancers are caused by alcohol and tobacco use, especially when these risk factors are combined. Some types of HPV infections may also result in some types of neck and head cancer, specifically those involving the tonsils or base of the tongue.

Various other risk factors are associated with these types of cancers as well:

  • Paan – Also known as betel quid, paan is used by immigrants from Southeast Asia and has been known to increase the risk of oral cancer.
  • Preserved or Salted Foods – Some preserved or salted foods consumed during childhood could result in nasopharyngeal cancer later in life.
  • Oral Health – Poor oral hygiene and use of mouthwash with a high alcohol content are possible (although not proven) risk factors for oral cavity cancers.
  • Occupation – Some industries, such as asbestos, synthetic fibers, construction, metal, textiles, ceramics, and logging, may be associated with increased risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box).
  • Radiation – Patients exposed to radiation in the head or neck area for non-cancer related reasons may be at risk for developing cancer of the salivary glands.
  • Epstein-Barr Virus – This virus may produce nasopharyngeal cancer or cancer of the salivary glands.
  • Ancestry – Those of Asian (particularly Chinese) ancestry are naturally more at risk for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Neck and Head Cancer Symptoms

It’s important to note the list that follows is not comprehensive. Other symptoms may arise that lead to a neck or head cancer diagnosis.

Conversely, many of these symptoms can also be explained by other health-related issues besides cancer.

The most common signs of a serious issue include:

  • A lump or sore or ulceration that does not heal
  • Sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Change in voice or consistent hoarseness
  • Facial or oral numbness
  • Some lesions can remain without symptoms for a while

Symptoms for specific areas of the head and neck are listed below:

  • Inside the Mouth – See your doctor if you have persistent white or red patches on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth; jaw swelling; or unusual bleeding in the mouth.
  • Throat (Pharynx) – Trouble breathing, painful swallowing, neck pain, sore throat that doesn’t improve, frequent headaches, the feeling that you have something stuck in the back of your throat, pain or ringing in the ears, or changes in hearing are all signs of potential cancer of the pharynx.
  • Voice Box (Larynx) – Painful swallowing or ear pain can also be a sign of cancer of the larynx.
  • Sinuses and Nasal Cavity – If you experience chronic sinus infections that don’t respond to antibiotics, frequent headaches, bleeding from the nose, swelling around the eyes, pain in your upper teeth, or problems with dentures, seek a medical opinion.
  • Salivary Glands – Although this particular type of cancer is less common, signs that it might be present include swelling under the chin or around the jaw, or numbness or pain in the face, chin or neck that doesn’t go away.
  • Neck– New neck lumps or unusual swelling on the neck that does not go away.

How Doctors Detect Head and Neck Cancer

At NextGen, we provide routine oral, head and neck cancer screenings. Patients with cancer diagnoses of the face, oral cavity, tongue, jaw, throat/tonsils, neck, thyroid and parathyroid glands, salivary glands, larynx, and skin on the face, neck, scalp, or nose also benefit from our surgical and reconstructive services.

Dr. Eftekhari works with great oncologists and radiation oncologist in the region to offer the best and most advanced care in cancer treatment and follow most up to date guidelines from National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).

This information is encouraging, but you may be wondering how doctors even diagnose head or neck cancer in the first place.

Below are a few of the things we look for when screening for head or neck cancer:

  • Head and Neck Exam – A doctor looks and feels for abnormal areas in the head and neck areas, including lymph nodes. Mirrors and scopes may be used to view difficult to reach areas such as the back of the throat. This exam is non-invasive and done in the clinic.
  • Panendoscopy – This is a more invasive procedure, and it is done under general anesthesia. A surgeon looks inside your mouth, nose, and throat using a scope and may take biopsies (small samples) of certain tissues for examination later.
  • CT (or CAT) Scan – This is a type of X-ray that provides detailed 3D images of areas such as lymph nodes and other organs. CT scans are useful in determining if certain cancers are spreading to other areas of the body and the extent of the tumor.
  • MRI Scan – This scan uses radio waves and magnets to take detailed pictures as well. MRIs are used specifically to determine the size of the cancer and to look for tumors in certain cases.
  • Blood Tests – Although not as specific as the other tests mentioned above, certain blood tests can help doctors determine the overall health of the patient and may provide some direction as to the cause of unexplained symptoms.

Head and Neck Cancer Treatment Options

A cancer diagnosis is a serious issue that should never be ignored or brushed aside. Treatment plans for patients depend on a variety of factors, including the location of the cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the patient’s age and overall health.

Treatment options can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these. Our clinic at NextGen is equipped to provide you with most advanced and up to date surgical options based on National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) for treatment as well as answers to your questions and concerns every step of the way. We utilized some of the best Hospitals in Dallas and North Dallas areas for our surgeries.

Dr. Eftekhari works with great oncologists and radiation oncologist in the region to offer the best and most advanced care in cancer treatment in a multidisciplinary fashion.

The American Cancer Society reminds patients that although you cannot change the fact that you have cancer, you can change “how you live the rest of your life.”

At NexGen, we’re here to help you find a path forward that won’t leave you looking back over your shoulder at what cancer did to your life. Having cancer will likely be the most difficult challenge you’ll ever face, but you don’t have to face it alone.

Contact NextGen and Dr. Eftekhari to help guide you to a new path and better health.