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Head and neck cancer refers to various types of cancers tha affect the mouth, throat and other parts of the head and neck. A prolonged sore throat is one of the most common symptoms. These cancers can often be treated if detected early, and most are preventable. In most cases, head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinoma, which begins in flat squamous cells. These cells are found as a thin layer of tissue in the head and neck. If cancer is only confined in the squamous layer of cells, it is known as carcinoma in situ. If the cancer has spread beyond this layer and grown into the deeper tissue, it is known as invasive squamous cell carcinoma. Head and neck cancers may have different names depending on the location where it starts. For example, cancers that begin in the throat (pharynx) is called nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal (in the middle throat just behind the mouth), and hypopharyngeal (in the lower throat). There are over 30 areas within the neck and head where cancer can develop, such as mouth and lips, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), nose and sinuses, and salivary glands.
Types of Head and Neck Cancer
Oral cancer: Cancer that develop in the lips, lining of the cheeks and lips, tongue, gums, the top and bottom of the mouth, and behind the wisdom teeth.
Hypopharyngeal cancer: Cancer in the bottom part of the throat.
Oropharyngeal cancer: This type of cancer is present in the middle part of the throat. Tonsil cancer is one of most common type of oropharyngeal cancers.
Nasopharyngeal cancer: This type of cancer occurs in the upper part of your throat.
Laryngeal cancer: Cancer in the voice box that contains the vocal cords.
Nasal cavity & paranasal sinus cancer: Cancer in the hollow area inside of the nose or the hollow area in the bones around the nose.
Salivary gland cancer: Cancer in the salivary glands that produce saliva.
Causes and Symptoms
Below are some tests to diagnose head and neck cancer Endoscopy
This procedure makes use of a thin, lighted tube known as endoscope that allows the doctor to see the nasal cavity, voice box, throat, or other areas where symptoms are experienced. An endoscopy can have different names based on the body part that is being examined.
For example, nasal endoscopy allows one to see the nasal cavity. A laryngoscopy let the provider view the voice box.
Physical exam: The doctor checks the oral and nasal cavities, tongue, neck and throat. They may also examine your neck, gum, lips and cheeks to find lumps.
Imaging tests: Head and neck CT scans, MRIs, X-rays and PET scans produces images of areas inside the head and neck. The doctor decides which tests will be most suitable for making a diagnosis.
Biopsy: In this process, a tissue is removed for pathologists to examine it under a microscope. They will look for cancer cells in the given sample. A biopsy is an effective way to diagnose this type of cancer. Common biopsy methods used for diagnosing head and neck cancer are fine needle aspiration and core needle biopsy.
Lab tests: A blood sample is taken for testing. It may be used to test for viruses such as HPV or EBV. They may perform biomarker testing to look for proteins common in specific head and neck cancers. This can help in determining treatment options.
Risk & Complications
If you had gone under head and neck cancer surgery, then you may face some complications, like;
Eating Problems: Individuals with head and neck cancer may experience trouble eating as well as drinking due to the disease itself. However, surgery also can lead to trouble swallowing and mouth issues.
Nerve damage: Certain chemotherapy drugs may cause nerve damage. Radiation therapy may also damage joints, muscles, nerves, and bones in the jaw. You may also experience changes in the taste and smell of food.
Dry mouth: Radiation therapy may damage the salivary glands. This leads to dry mouth and thick saliva, which can worsen with time. This in tu cause tooth and gum damage, slow healing of wounds, and painful cracks and sores in the mouth.
Tooth loss: Radiation can cause damage to teeth and jaw bones. This can result in cavities and tooth loss. It is important to consult a dentist and address any dental issues before you begin radiation therapy. This allows your mouth to heal before the surgery in case you have any dental work.
Lymphedema: Radiation and surgery may damage the lymph system. This means lymph fluid is unable to flow back to the heart and builds up under your skin. This can in tu cause swelling in the face, chest, or neck. Your neck as well as shoulders could feel stiff.
Hypothyroidism: When you get radiation in the neck, it may damage the thyroid gland, which can production of thyroid hormones. Low level of these hormones might cause weight gain and could make you feel tired.
Preparation of Treatment
Quit tobacco: Avoiding the use of all tobacco products is an important thing to reduce the risk of head and neck cancer. Tobacco is considered a major cancer causing agent.
Cut back on drinking: Drinking alcohol affects the occurrence of head and neck cancers, and influence the quality of life, length of life and cancer recurrence. Drinking during after treatment can reduce the survival for a head and neck cancer patient.
Get the HPV vaccine: The vaccine offers protection against specific types of HPV that cause oropharyngeal cancers, and therefore it could prevent oropharyngeal cancer. HPV vaccination is recommended for everyone through age of 26 years.
Use sunscreen regularly: Studies reveal that regular use of SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce the risk of developing head and neck cancer by about 40%, and decrease the melanoma risk by 50%.
Avoid extended period of time in the sun: Exposure to UV radiation causes initial aging of head and neck cancer. People of all skin tones should limit the duration of time they spend in the sun, particularly between noon and late afteoon.
Wear a protective face mask: Face masks prevent exposure to toxic fumes and dust and hence reduces the risk of head and neck cancer.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind before undergoing head and neck cancer surgery. Preparing yourself before surgery helps increase the chance of success of the procedure. You need to follow the below-listed things to prepare yourself for head and neck cancer surgery: Stop smoking: If you continue smoking, you might not respond well to the treatment, or side effects can worsen. Start or continue physical exercise: Exercise helps build increase your strength for recovery. You are advised to talk to your doctor for the right type of exercise. Improve diet and nutrition: A dietitian will suggest steps to maintain your healthy weight during treatment. This in tu helps improve treatment effectiveness. Avoid alcohol: Alcohol consumption can make the treatment less effective and also affect your recovery. Consult a dentist: Your head head and neck cancer surgeon may refer you to a dentist who better understands the treatment you will be having.
Best Hospitals for Head And Neck Cancer Treatment
The main treatments for head and neck surgery are radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy. The doctor may also use treatments such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy. Below are some common treatments for head and neck cancer:
Chemotherapy: This method of head and neck cancer treatment uses a single drug or different combination of drugs to target cancer cells. Chemotherapy is commonly used to treat advanced-stage head and neck cancer.
Surgery: In this procedure, head and neck cancer surgeons remove the tumor and surrounding healthy tissues. The doctor can also remove your lymph nodes from the neck in case they suspect the cancer has spread to this part.
Radiation therapy: This is also an effective head and neck cancer treatment method in which a machine that directs high-energy X-rays towards the tumor. The radiation can be used as a standalone treatment or can be coupled with other treatments such as surgery or chemotherapy. This therapy can can also help relieve symptoms.
Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy drugs boost the immune system which in tu destroy cancer cells effectively. Pembrolizumab and nivolumab are two approved immunotherapy medications for treating some head and neck cancers which have reoccurred after treatment.
Targeted therapy: In this treatment, drugs target some specific types of cancer. These drugs may also be used in combination with other treatments. Cetuximab is a drug that acts on tumor protein known as epidermal growth factor. The drug larotrectinib is used to treat people having a mutation in their NTRK gene.
Cost of the treatment
The cost of head and neck cancer treatment in India is around $3,200. Various factors could decide the cost of head and neck cancer treatment in India. These are type of the hospital, experience of the doctor, technology used, type of treatment, the patient’s general health, and age of the patient. The price of head and neck cancer treatment in India is much less than that in weste countries.
Recovery after head and neck cancer surgery
The patient generally begins to heal in 2- 6 weeks after the treatment. Some patients may take longer to recover depending on a number of factors. While your affected parts are healing, they may feel sensitive for several months after the treatment. The areas in the mouth, throat and nose that had radiation will feel a little different. After treatment ends, the patient will have regular appointment with their specialists for proper monitoring of their health, manage any side effects and determine that the cancer has not retued or spread. Your taste will generally improve in around 6 months after the treatment. Some patients will need to adjust what they consume during the recovery period. They might also need nutritional supplements to have the required nutrition.
Award-winning CEO of Marlin Medical Assistance Pvt. Ltd
Dr. Mohammad Afzal Siddiqui is an award-winning CEO of Marlin Medical Assistance Pvt. Ltd., a professionally managed medical tourism holding company and the active Director of Alshifa Healthcare Services Pvt. Ltd., a full-service medical tourism aggregation agency servicing JCI and NABH/ NABL accredited Hospitals across the country’s 5 locations.
In addition to Marlin, Alshifa also includes Media Group, which houses Arabic Medical Tourism e-Magazine healthandtour.com. The E-magazine “مجلة الصحة والسياحة” provides a wide scope of medical tourism information to healthcare travellers to find a safe, effective and cost-saving solution for their medical and healthcare needs. In addition to running E-Magazine, Dr. Mohammad Afzal also serves as Delhi-state coordinator in Foundation of Healthcare and Wellness Promotion focused on bringing India’s Healthcare closer to the world and smoothen world’s access to Indian Healthcare.