Head and Neck Problems? Let’s see what might be your problem.



In November 21, 2008, by virtue of the power vested on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the President of the Republic of the Philippines signed and declared that the Fourth week of April every year as “Head and Neck Consciousness Week”, through Proclamation No. 1676 series of 2008.

This celebration is through the efforts and initiatives of the Philippine Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery and the Department of Health which aims to give awareness to the Filipino about the cancer of the head and neck and to promote accurate diagnosis, correct management and early detection and prevention.

This campaign is willing to intensify the awareness about the said disease because there is significant increase in numbers of cases of head and neck cancers because Filipinos were exposed more too environmental toxins, chemicals, pollution, smoking, alcohol, and improper nutrition.

what might be the problem

There are multiple issues that can occur within the glands, soft tissue structures, and cavities of the head and neck. These disorders can range from common infections and injuries to more serious conditions such as cancer and airway obstruction. Physicians for Ear, Nose & Throat can help evaluate and treat the multiple and varied problems and conditions that can arise in this area of the body.

Head and Neck Cancer has been a problem not just here in the Philippines but also in every corners of the world. This disease is very alarming because it claims many lives. People were not that aware about this disease.

The majority (about 90 percent) of head and neck cancers are due to long-term exposure to well-known risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol and sunlight. Most cancers of the mouth, tongue, throat and voice box are caused by tobacco use (cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff) and consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol. Throat cancer can also result from the human papilloma virus (HPV), while ongoing exposure to sunlight is directly linked to cancer of the skin and lip.

Head and neck cancers can usually be successfully treated and in most cases cured if caught in the early stages. Thus, recognizing the signs of head and neck cancer and immediately bringing them to the attention of an otolaryngologist (ENT doctor) can save your life.

what are the risk factors

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop the disease, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The 2 substances that greatly increase the risk of developing a head and neck cancer are:

  • Tobacco. Tobacco use includes smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes; chewing tobacco; and using snuff. It is the single largest risk factor for head and neck cancer. Eighty-five percent (85%) of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use, and the amount of tobacco use may affect prognosis, which is the chance of recovery. In addition, secondhand smoke may increase a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancer.
  • Alcohol. Frequent and heavy alcohol consumption raises the risk of developing cancer in the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus. Using alcohol and tobacco together increases this risk even more.

Other factors that can raise a person’s risk of developing head and neck cancer include:

  • Prolonged sun exposure. This is especially linked to cancer in the lip area, as well as skin cancer of the head and neck.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV). Research shows that infection with HPV is a risk factor for head and neck cancer. Sexual activity with someone who has HPV is the most common way someone gets HPV. There are different types of HPV, called strains. Research links some HPV strains more strongly with certain types of cancers. There are vaccines available to protect you from some HPV strains.
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Exposure to EBV, which is more commonly known as the virus that causes mononucleosis or “mono,” plays a role in the development of nasopharyngeal cancer.
  • Gender. Men are 2 to 3 times more likely than women to develop head and neck cancer. However, the rate of head and neck cancer in women has been rising for several decades. 
  • Age. People over the age of 40 are at higher risk for head and neck cancer.
  • Race. Black people are more likely than white people to develop certain types of head and neck cancer.
  • Poor oral and dental hygiene. Poor care of the mouth and teeth has been suggested as a factor that may increase the risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Environmental or occupational inhalants. Inhaling asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes, and certain chemicals may increase a person’s risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Marijuana use. Research suggests that people who have used marijuana may be at higher risk for head and neck cancer.
  • Poor nutrition. A diet low in vitamins A and B can raise a person’s risk of head and neck cancer.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD). Reflux of stomach acid into the upper airway and throat has been suggested as a factor associated with the development of head and neck cancer.
  • Weakened immune system. A weakened immune system can raise a person’s risk of head and neck cancer.

what are the preventive measures

Different factors cause different types of cancer. Researchers continue to look into what factors cause this type of cancer. Although there is no proven way to completely prevent this disease, you may be able to lower your risk. Talk with your doctor for more information about your personal risk of cancer.

Stopping the use of all tobacco products is the most important thing a person can do to reduce their risk, even for people who have been smoking for many years. Other steps that can reduce the risk of head and neck cancer include:

  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Discussing marijuana as a risk factor with your doctor and avoiding marijuana use
  • Using sunscreen regularly, including lip balm with an adequate sun protection factor (SPF)
  • Reducing your risk of HPV infection by limiting the number of sexual partners, since having many partners increases the risk of HPV infection. Using a condom cannot fully protect you from HPV during sex.
  • Maintaining proper care of dentures. Poorly fitting dentures can trap tobacco and alcohol’s cancer-causing substances. Denture wearers should have their dentures evaluated by a dentist at least every 5 years to ensure a good fit. Dentures should be removed every night and cleaned and rinsed thoroughly every day.

what are s and s

People with head and neck cancer often experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with head and neck cancer do not have any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be another medical condition that is not cancer.

  • Swelling or sore that does not heal; this is the most common symptom
  • Red or white patch in the mouth
  • Lump, bump, or mass in the head or neck area, with or without pain
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Foul mouth odor not explained by hygiene
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Nasal obstruction or persistent nasal congestion
  • Frequent nose bleeds and/or unusual nasal discharge
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Double vision
  • Numbness or weakness of a body part in the head and neck region
  • Pain or difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Ear and/or jaw pain
  • Blood in the saliva or phlegm, which is mucus discharged into the mouth from respiratory passages
  • Loosening of teeth
  • Dentures that no longer fit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue

when to see your doctor

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis. (Please see full diagnostic exam and work-up)

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

treatmentMany cancers of the head and neck can be cured, especially if they are found early. Although eliminating the cancer is the primary goal of treatment, preserving the function of the nearby nerves, organs, and tissues is also very important. When planning treatment, doctors consider how treatment might affect a person’s quality of life, such as how a person feels, looks, talks, eats, and breathes.

Descriptions of the most common treatment options for head and neck cancer are listed below.

Overall, the main treatment options are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Surgery or radiation therapy by themselves or a combination of these treatments may be part of a person’s treatment plan. More details can be found each specific cancer type section. (See the Link for a complete list of different types of head and neck cancer.)

Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including:

  • The type and stage of cancer
  • Possible side effects
  • The patient’s preferences and overall health

Your care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of cancer care. Take time to learn about all of your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Also, talk about the goals of each treatment with your doctor and what you can expect while receiving the treatment. Learn more about making treatment decisions.

For full details of the treatment, please click here.

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