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Five Things You Need to Know about Head and Neck Cancer

Lehigh Valley Health Network otolaryngology surgeon Chetan Nayak, MD, with LVPG Ear, Nose and Throat, discusses some important things to keep in mind regarding head and neck cancer.

Meet our author: Chetan Nayak, MD, with LVPG Ear, Nose, and Throat, is a board-certified otolaryngology surgeon who has special expertise in head and neck cancer surgery and microvascular reconstruction.

The term "head and neck cancer" represents a group of cancers that affect the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, and mouth. While these diseases represent only 3 percent of new cancer cases in the U.S., they affect vital functions, including swallowing and speaking. LVPG Ear, Nose, and Throat utilizes a multidisciplinary clinic approach to treat head and neck cancer, working in conjunction with Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute, member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance. That means caregivers from different specialties work together to treat head and neck cancers from every angle.

Here are five things to know about head and neck cancer:

  1. What are the risk factors?

    Individuals who drink alcohol, particularly beer or hard liquor, and use cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or smokeless tobacco, are at a higher risk for developing head and neck cancer. Risk also increases with age, particularly those over 45.

  2. What are the symptoms?

    Symptoms for head and neck cancer include trouble swallowing; a persistent sore throat; cough; a change in voice; ear pain; and a lump in the mouth, neck, or throat. While these symptoms may be caused by other, non-cancerous conditions, check with your doctor if you exhibit any of them.

  3. How is head and neck cancer diagnosed?

    While head and neck cancer are most common in those older than 45, all adults should be screened annually as part of a dental exam that includes a full oral exam and inspection of the soft tissues of the head, neck, and interior of the mouth. Your physician also can complete this exam.

  4. How is head and neck cancer treated?

    Treatment for head and neck cancer depends on its location and stage, but many patients receive a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Clinical trials also are an option for many patients, even those who have not yet begun treatment.

  5. What are the side effects of head and neck cancer treatment?

    Head and neck cancer occurs in a sensitive area and its treatment often affects important life functions like speaking and eating. Your treatment team will include experts from Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute who can help you with these side effects.

Learn about LVHN’s head and neck cancer program and treatment options in our free guide. Find it at LVHN.org/ENTguide.