Head and Neck Cancer

What is Head and Neck Cancer?

Cancer is a stage when carcinoma cells begin to grow in an uncontrolled manner. They form a mass that is called as tumor. The most dangerous property of a cancerous cell is that it grows and spreads to other body parts. Head and neck cancer is no different from it.

Head and neck cancer is a state when different malignant tumors are developed around: Throat, Neck, Sinus, Mouth, Larynx

Most of the cancerous cells found in these areas are squamous. At first the formation of these head and neck cancer cells is flat. Squamous cell produces a thin layer of tissues on the surface of the affected area, i.e. neck, mouth, neck etc.

Types of head and neck cancer - Basically head and neck cancer can be divided into 5 major types based upon the body parts where they develop.

  • Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancer: The larynx is also known as our voice box. It is a tube-shaped organ that is located at the top of wind pipe, also known as trachea in our neck which plays a vital role in breathing, talking and important feathers like swallowing. Gullet is the second name given to hypopharynx that surrounds our lower part of the throat

  • Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancer: This includes major growth of cancer cells in the area in the space behind our nose from where the air passes in our nasal cavity to the throat. These air filled area called paranasal sinuses.

  • Nasopharyngeal Cancer: It is cancer of an organ called nasopharynx. It is the air passageway that is situated in the upper part of our throat behind the nose.

  • Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer: The oral cavities affect our mouth and tongue the most. This type of cancer includes growth of cancerous cells in the middle of the throat from the tonsils and affects till the top of voice box.

  • Salivary Gland Cancer: As obvious from the name, this cancer affects our salivary glands the most. These glands help us to produce saliva. It is released in our mouth to keep it moist that helps us in breaking the food down. It is the most important organ that helps in food swallowing with the help of enzymes released through our salivary gland.


People with Head and Neck Cancer often experience the following symptoms or signs.

  1. Swelling or sore that does not heal; this is the most common symptom
  2. Red or white patch in the mouth
  3. Lump, bump, or mass in the head or neck area, with or without pain
  4. Persistent sore throat
  5. Foul mouth odor not explained by hygiene
  6. Hoarseness or change in voice
  7. Nasal obstruction or persistent nasal congestion
  8. Frequent nose bleeds and/or unusual nasal discharge


Alcohol and tobacco use (including smokeless tobacco, sometimes called “chewing tobacco” or “snuff”) are the two most important risk factors for head and neck cancers, especially cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and larynx. Following are the causes of Head and Neck Cancer:

  1. Paan (betel quid)
  2. Preserved or salted foods
  3. Oral Health
  4. Occupational exposure to wood dust, asbestos and synthetic fibers
  5. Radiation exposure


A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. The 2 substances that greatly increase the risk of developing a head and neck cancer are tobacco and alcohol.

Prolonged sun exposure, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), and Ebstein's- Barr Virus(EBV) are other risl factors for head and neck cancer.


People who are at risk of head and neck cancers―particularly those who use tobacco―should talk with their doctor about ways that they may be able to reduce their risk. They should also discuss with their doctor how often to have checkups. In addition, ongoing clinical trials are testing the effectiveness of various medications in preventing head and neck cancers in people who have a high risk of developing these diseases.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors use many tests to diagnose cancer. They also conduct tests to learn if cancer has spread to another part of the body. For most types of cancer, a biopsy is the only sure way for the doctor ...

How is it treated?

Many cancers of the head and neck can be cured, especially if they are found early. Although eliminating the cancer is the primary goal of treatment, preserving the function of the nearby nerves, organs, and tissues is also very important. When pl..

  • Radiation Therapy

    Radiation Therapy is the use of high-energy X-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. A radiation therapy schedule usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over a set period of time. The most common type of radiation therapy is called external-beam radiation therapy, example- Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT).

  • Chemotherapy

    It is the use of drugs to cancer cells, usually by stopping the cancer cell's ability to grow and divide. A chemotherapy schedule usually consists of a specific number of cycles given over a set period of time.

  • Targeted Therapy

    It is a treatment that targets the cancer's specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. This type of treatment blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells while limiting the damage to healthy cells.

When do I contact the doctor?

People who are at risk of head and neck cancers―particularly those who use tobacco―should talk with their doctor about ways that they may be able to reduce their risk. They should also discuss with their doctor how often to have checkups. Early diagnosis and treatment may stop progression of head and neck cancer and help containing further complications.

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