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Cancers of the Head and Neck

Head and neck cancers are diagnosed in 4,300 Canadians per year. Men are nearly three times more likely to develop the disease than are women. Head and neck cancers include cancers of the mouth (such as lip and tongue), the pharynx, or throat, and the larynx, or voice box. Early symptoms occur as a lump or nodule, numbness, swelling, hoarseness, sore throat or any difficulty moving the jaw or swallowing. Risk factors include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and chewing smokeless tobacco. Doctors have found that people who smoke one pack of cigarettes a day are six times more likely than non-smokers to get cancer of the head or neck. Those who also have two alcoholic drinks a day increase their risk 20-fold.
 

Oropharyngeal (mid throat) Cancer
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the tissues of the oropharynx – the middle part of the throat (also called the pharynx) . This includes the soft palate/back of the mouth, the base of the tongue and the tonsils. The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose (nasopharynx) and goes down to the neck (hypopharynx) to become part of the esophagus, the tube that goes to the stomach. Air and food pass through the pharynx on the way to the windpipe (trachea) or the esophagus.
 

Hypopharyngeal (lower throat) Cancer
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the tissues of the hypopharynx—the bottom part of the throat, also called the pharynx. The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose (nasopharynx) and goes down to the neck (hypopharynx) to become part of the esophagus, the tube that goes to the stomach. Air and food pass through the pharynx on the way to the windpipe (trachea) or the esophagus. Cancer of the hypopharynx most commonly starts in the cells that line the hypopharynx.
 

Laryngeal (voice box) Cancer
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the tissues of the larynx (voice box). The larynx (voice box) is located just below the pharynx (throat) in the neck. The larynx contains the vocal cords, which vibrate and make sound when air is directed against them. The sound echoes through the pharynx, mouth and nose to make a person’s voice.
 

Lip and Oral Cavity Cancer
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the tissues of the lip or mouth. The oral cavity includes the front two-thirds of the tongue, the upper and lower gums, the lining of the inside of the cheeks and lips, the floor of the mouth under the tongue, the bony top of the mouth (hard palate), and the small area behind the wisdom teeth.
 

Nasopharyngeal (upper throat) Cancer
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the tissues of the nasopharynx – the upper part of the throat (also called the pharynx) located behind the nose. The holes in the nose through which people breathe lead into the nasopharynx. Two openings on the side of the nasopharynx lead into the ear. The nasopharynx sits above the soft palate.
 

Paranasal Sinus and Nasal Cavity Cancer
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the tissues of the paranasal sinuses or nasal cavity. Paranasal sinuses are small, hollow spaces around the nose. The sinuses are lined with cells that make mucus, which keeps the nose from drying out; the sinuses also are a space through which the voice can resonate to make sounds when a person talks or sings. There are several paranasal sinuses, including the frontal sinuses (forehead), the maxillary sinuses in the upper part of either side of the upper jawbone (cheeks), the ethmoid sinuses (between nose and eyes), and the sphenoid sinus behind the ethmoid sinus in the center of the skull. The nasal cavity is the passageway just behind the nose through which air passes on the way to the throat during breathing.
  

Salivary Gland Cancer
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the tissues of the salivary glands. The salivary glands make saliva, the fluid that is released into the mouth to keep it moist and to help dissolve food. Major clusters of salivary glands are found below the tongue, on the sides of the face just in front of the ears, and under the jawbone. Smaller clusters of salivary glands are found in other parts of the upper digestive tract. The smaller glands are called the minor salivary glands.
 

Squamous Cell Neck Cancer
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the squamous cells – thin, flat cells found in tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of body organs and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.

Cancer can begin in the squamous cells and spread (metastasize) from its original site to the lymph nodes in the neck or around the collarbone. Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body. They produce and store infection-fighting cells. When the lymph nodes in the neck are found to contain squamous cell cancer, a doctor will try to find out where the cancer started (the primary tumor). If the doctor cannot find a primary tumor, the cancer is called a metastatic cancer with unseen (occult) primary.
 

Soft Tissue Sarcoma
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the soft tissue of part of the body. The soft tissues of the body include the muscles, connective tissues (tendons), vessels that carry blood or lymph, joints, and fat.
 

Thyroid Cancer
A disease in which cancerous cells are found in the tissues of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is at the base of the throat and has two lobes, one each on the right and left side. The thyroid gland produces hormones that help the body function normally. There are four main types of cancer of the thyroid, based on how the cancer cells look under a microscope: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic.

Adapted from Johns Hopkins Head and Neck Cancer Center website www.hopkinsmedicine.org/otolaryngology/
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery - 
www.entcanada.org/public2/patient14.asp