Cancer is perhaps the most dreaded diagnosis any patient wishes to hear from his physician. However, not all lumps are cancerous. In fact, the majority of lumps in the head and neck are benign. The trick is distinguishing those that are cancerous, from those that aren’t. That’s where a Head & Neck surgeon comes in.
Voice Box Cancer / Larynx Cancer
Laryngeal cancer is one of the commonest head and neck cancers. The major risk factors include tobacco use in any form, and excessive alcohol consumption. The commonest symptom is an alteration in voice, followed by ear pain and difficulty swallowing. When the cancer gets very big, it may obstruct breathing.
Mouth Cancer and Throat Cancer
These cancers have the same risk factors as larynx cancer, i.e. smoking and/or alcohol use.
Mouth cancer might start off as a small ulcer or sore that does not heal. It is usually associated with pain as well, and swellings in the neck (lymph nodes) can develop as the cancer spreads.
Throat cancer can feel like a tonsil infection, and look like one too. It does not get better with antibiotics, and patients will complain of a sore throat and difficulty swallowing.
Sinus cancer is often missed early on, because the sinuses are insensate. Cancer can this grow for a long time without the patient being aware of it, and it is only when the cancer grown beyond the confines of the sinus that symptoms manifest. Patients can complain of the same things they would for a sinusitis:
- Blocked nose
- Loss of smell
- Runny nose
- Feeling of pressure and pain in the face
If these symptoms get worse despite treatment, or if the nasal discharge becomes bloody, it would be best to book a consultation with an ENT surgeon who would be able to look deep inside your nose with a camera.
Tumours of the Salivary Glands
The salivary glands, as their name implies, produce the saliva that helps us eat. Occasionally, they may be affected by tumours. Generally treatment of these tumours is by surgical excision. Head and Neck Surgeons are specifically trained in the holistic management of these tumours.
For all the cancers/tumours above, it is important to see someone who has experience in treating them. A holistic approach, including a multidisciplinary team, and a robust smoking cessation program, is essential. Cancer is a complex disease, and the information presented here is only an overview. If you are unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cancer, do not despair. Your ENT will discuss all the options with you. Cancer CAN be beaten!