What is head and neck cancer?
Head and neck cancer is the term given to cancers that start in the head and neck region. There are many different types of tissues in this area. These cancers can begin in any of these places:
- Voice box or larynx
- Nasal cavity, the passage behind the nose that air passes through it on its way to the throat during breathing
- Mouth or oral cavity
- Paranasal sinuses, spaces around the nose, lined with cells that make mucus that keeps the nose from drying out. The paranasal sinuses allow your voice to echo when you talk or sing.
- Throat or pharynx
- Salivary glands, the glands that make saliva, which keeps food moist and help dissolve food
“Head and neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer found annually in the U.S. today,” says Lehigh Valley Health Network otolaryngology surgeon Chetan Nayak, MD, with LVPG Ear, Nose and Throat. “At one time, it primarily affected patients in the 60-70-year age range, mainly due to smoking. But today it’s also affecting younger people with the increasing incidence of oropharyngeal (throat) cancer due to exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV).”
Here's an overview of the types of head and neck cancer and which areas they affect:
- Cancer of the hypopharynx. Cancer cells are found in the tissues in the bottom part of the throat, behind the voice box.
- Cancer of the nasopharynx. Cancer cells are found in the tissues of the upper part of the throat, behind the nose.
- Cancer of the oropharynx. Cancer cells are found in the back of the middle part of the throat.
- Cancer of the paranasal sinus and nasal cavity. Cancer cells are found in the tissues in the small hollow spaces around the nose, known as the paranasal sinus and nasal cavity. The nasal cavity is just behind the nose.
- Cancer of the salivary gland. Cancer cells are found in the salivary glands. These glands are found just below the tongue, on the sides of the face in front of the ears, and under the jawbone. There are also salivary glands in different parts of the upper digestive tract.
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