Head and Neck Tumors

Head and Neck tumors is a general phrase used to describe any tumors that develop from in the neck and above. These tumors can take on various sizes, shapes, and locations, including the oral and nasal cavities, paranasal sinuses, orbits, larynx, pharynx and salivary glands.


These types of tumors can be both benign and malignant. More than 90% of tumors found in the head and neck, not including the skin and thyroid gland, are squamous cell carcinomas.


In many cases benign tumors do not cause symptoms other than the occurrence of a hard mass in the head or neck. However, these masses can become a problem when they grow in size and put pressure on structures with the head and neck region. If malignant, tumors in this area can cause interference with the respiratory and digestive systems, as well as cause problems with a patient’s vision. Often times early symptoms can be disregarded by the patient because the indicators can be very understated or confused with other non-cancerous conditions.


Some of the first signs of head and neck cancers often include:


A sore throat or hoarse voice

Swelling of the neck

A sore in the mouth or bleeding from the mouth

Continuous pain or soreness of the neck, ears, or throat

Numbness or soreness of the tongue

Red or dark patches in the mouth

Difficulty chewing or swallowing

Reoccurring nosebleeds or nasal congestion

 A complete review of the patient’s medical history, followed by a physical examination of the head and neck region are the beginning steps in diagnosis. Once complete, the patient will undergo radiographic imaging tests to further evaluate the head and neck area and also get a better understanding of the size and location of the tumor. These tests include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans, and on occasion positron emission tomography (PET) scans will be needed.


Next, a biopsy is needed to establish if the tumor is cancerous or not. Biopsies can be taken in a few different ways and is often determined by the location of the tumor. A biopsy can be a quick outpatient procedure in which a needle is inserted into the mass and extracts tissue which can be examined in the lab. However, if results come back inconclusive a more invasive procedure will be needed in which an incision is made and a portion or the entire tumor is removed.


If the mass is found to have cancerous cells more tests are performed to determine if the cancer has spread to anywhere else in the region or the body.

 Traditionally, surgery is the best form of treatment for most head and neck tumors. If a tumor is found to be benign then removing the mass in surgery is all that is needed. However, if the tumor is malignant then once it is removed treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation, or both.

Patients with non-malignant tumors get them removed surgically and have a very positive prognosis. Early diagnosis and treatment of malignant tumors is crucial and increases one’s chances of recovering. Once radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy is concluded it is imperative that patients routinely get examined to ensure that new or reoccurring tumors do not develop. Due to the fact that head and neck cancers are so aggressive, 8 out of 10 recurrences will happen within two years.

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