The term “head and neck cancer” can refer to cancers affecting a number of specific regions within this larger section of the body. Often, it means cancers impacting the mouth, throat, and nose. Although cancer emerging in these areas is often out of the affected individual’s control, there are a number of behaviors that significantly contribute to the development of head and neck cancer, particularly excessive use of tobacco (through smoking of cigarettes and cigars or chewing tobacco) and alcohol.
As with any type of cancer, it’s crucial that individuals catch head and neck cancers early in their development. In order to do so, it’s important that people recognize the signs and symptoms of cancers affecting the throat, nose, and mouth. This is particularly crucial for people whose family history or lifestyle increases their chances of developing these serious ailments.
1. Sore throat
A sore throat is rarely worth worrying about — after all, it can be caused by a range of fairly harmless afflictions, from over-exerting the voice muscles to seasonal allergies to the common cold. Generally speaking, a sore throat is either very temporary or just the first sign that a head cold is setting in.
However, a sore throat could indicate that an individual is developing throat cancer. While it can be difficult to distinguish between a common cold and throat cancer, in the latter case the pain will not go away after a few days or even weeks. In essence, if you develop a painful sore throat without any of the other symptoms of a head cold, and the sore throat doesn’t go away after a week or so, then it may be time to speak to a doctor about a thorough examination.
2. Mouth pain
Like many of the other symptoms on this list, mouth pain doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything to worry about. After all, it can be caused by many things, from burning your tongue on hot food to using a new toothbrush. Of course, mouth pain can also be the result of poor oral hygiene, such as failing to brush, floss or rinse on a regular basis.
But this pain should subside in time, particularly if the afflicted individual is taking care with their oral hygiene. And there are other indicators that something more serious is up, including red and white patches on the gums, tongue, or mouth lining. Bleeding gums and pain in the jaw could also be indicators that the mouth pain one is feeling is more serious and could be linked to head and neck cancer. If you experience a few of these symptoms, or your mouth pain doesn’t subside after a few days, it would be wise to speak with your doctor and/or dentist about the issue.
3. Difficulty talking
Anyone with a serious throat infection or bad head cold will tell you that these relatively harmless afflictions can make it rather difficult to speak. Colds and infections of the throat can make it difficult. In most cases this pain will subside after a few days or a week or two.
If the pain lasts, however, it could be a sign that there is a more serious problem affecting the throat, including the pharynx. Persistent pain in the throat making it difficult to speak should be considered serious and should be followed by a thorough examination by a physician to rule out throat cancer.
4. Trouble swallowing
There are a few health conditions that can make it difficult to swallow, including moderately serious issues like strep throat. But even the common cold can present an individual with a sore throat that makes it difficult to swallow.
However, if this pain persists — and there are none of the other symptoms that accompany the typical head cold, such as a cough and stuffy nose — then it’s a good idea to visit a doctor to determine the cause of the issue. It could simply be irritated as a result of an infection or seasonal allergies, but it may also be linked to throat cancer. If it’s the latter, it’s better to catch the problem early, thereby giving medical specialists more time to fight the disease.
5. Sinus pain
Sinus pain is most often associated with seasonal allergies or the common cold. However, it can also be the result of structural issues affecting the nose and
sinuses; in other words, if there are blockages in the nose, it could lead to plugged sinuses that don’t clear and lead to significant sinus pain and headaches.
Additionally, dryness can cause the nose to feel stuffy and may even result in nose bleeds.
The onset of sinus pain should be met with a visit to a physician who can help you determine if the problem is related to allergies, blockages, general dryness, or something more serious, such as nose cancer. If the problem does not respond to medications, such as antibiotics, then there’s an increased chance that it is a more serious issue.
6. Pain or numbness caused by inflammation
The emergence of cancer in the head and neck area can lead to significant inflammation. If there’s a serious problem developing, an individual may notice swelling in their jaw or in the area just below their chin. The feeling of swelling — which is often accompanied by pain — in this part of the head could be the result of cancer emerging in the salivary glands.
Inflammation resulting from the development of head and neck cancer can also lead to feelings of numbness or paralysis in the face muscles; this can also be accompanied by pain. If this pain lasts for more than a few days, it’s crucial the individual contact their physician right away to carry out an examination of the head and neck area.