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Head and Neck Cancer FAQs

Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP, on July 13, 2017

Take the Head and Neck Cancer Quiz Quiz First! Before reading this FAQ, challenge yourself and
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Q:What are types of head and neck cancers and what are they called?

A:Oropharyngeal, hypopharyngeal, and laryngeal cancers are all types of head and neck cancers. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancer of skeletal muscle cells.

- Oropharyngeal cancer is cancer that develops in the back of the mouth or the throat.
- Hypopharyngeal cancer develops in the bottom part of the throat, near the voice box.
- Laryngeal cancer is cancer located in the vocal cords.

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Q:Head and neck cancers account for only 4% of all cancers. True or False?

A:True.

Head and neck cancers make up about 4% of all cancer cases in the U.S.

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Q:Who is diagnosed with head and neck cancer more: men, or women?

A:Men are diagnosed with head and neck cancers about twice as often as women.

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Q:True or false: chemical exposure can increase one’s risk of sinus cancer.

A:It's true: exposure to certain chemicals can increase the risk of developing sinus cancer.

Certain jobs, including furniture-making, sawmill work, woodworking (carpentry), shoemaking, metal-plating, and flour mill or bakery work can expose workers to dust and chemicals that increase the risk for paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancers.

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Q:The human papillomavirus (HPV) can be a risk factor for head and neck cancer. True or False?

A:True.

One risk factor for head and neck cancers is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV belongs to a group of more than 200 related viruses, more than 40 of which are spread through sexual contact. About a dozen types of HPV are known to be high risk for causing cancer. These high risk types of HPV are responsible for about 70% of all oropharyngeal cancers that affect the middle part of the throat, the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils.

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Q:What are the two most important risk factors for head and neck cancer?

A:Tobacco and alcohol use are the two main risk factors that cause head and neck cancers, responsible for up to 85% of all cases.

A smoker's risk of developing head or neck cancer is 35 times higher than that of a nonsmoker. A heavy drinker increases his or her risk up to 5 times. People who smoke and drink heavily may have up to 100 times greater risk of developing these cancers.

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Q:What are signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer?

A:

Signs and symptoms of head and neck cancers may resemble other conditions and may include:

- Chronic sinus infections
- Headaches
- Nosebleeds
- A sore throat that does not go away
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Change in voice or hoarseness
- Lump or sore in the throat that does not heal
- White or red patches on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth
- Jaw swelling
- Unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth
- Trouble breathing or speaking
- Ringing in the ears, ear pain, or trouble hearing
- Swelling or trouble with the eyes
- Problems with dentures
- Numbness or paralysis in the face
- Pain in the face, chin, or neck that does not go away

See a doctor if any symptoms do not go away or do not respond to treatment.

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Q:What type of cells are commonly affected by head and neck cancer?

A:Squamous cells that make up the thin layer of tissue that lines the surfaces in the head and neck, including the mouth, nose, and throat.

These types of cells are where head and neck cancers usually start.

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Q:How are head and neck cancers treated?

A:Treatment for head and neck cancers depends on the location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, the patient's age and overall health.

Treatments for head and neck cancers may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments.

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