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About 4% of all U.S. cancers are found in the head and neck. They often begin in the moist tissues that line parts of the nose, mouth and throat. When caught early, head and neck cancers are very treatable. Mercy’s cancer specialists are highly skilled at treating all types of head and neck cancers, helping those affected achieve the best outcomes.
Your head and neck house about 25 body parts, including your nose, mouth, sinuses, throat, voice box, thyroid and many others. Cancer that develops in these areas is called head and neck cancer. But specific types are named for the area in which cancer begins.
Thyroid cancer forms in your thyroid gland ― the butterfly-shaped organ at the base of your throat that regulates metabolism and other body processes. Several types of thyroid cancers can develop, with varying degrees of aggressiveness. Learn more about thyroid cancer.
Throat cancer is the most common head and neck cancer in the U.S., and at Mercy. There are different types of throat cancer, depending on the part of the throat affected:
Cancer can also develop in the larynx (voice box), which sits at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and contains the vocal cords. Laryngeal cancer often starts in the cells lining the inside of the voice box.
Nasopharyngeal cancer is also known as nasopharyngeal carcinoma or NPC and is a rare type of head and neck cancer. It starts from epithelial cells that line the upper part of the throat. Nasopharyngeal cancer has three main types, based on the types of cells involved, including:
NPC treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer and may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery.
Cancer can develop in the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses (spaces between the bones around the nose). This type of cancer is often referred to as nasal and sinus cancer. The most common types of nasal and sinus cancer include:
Anyone can get head and neck cancers. But certain risk factors make you more likely to develop them. Head and neck cancer risk factors include the following:
Using alcohol and tobacco (including smokeless or chewing tobacco and exposure to secondhand smoke) are the top two risk factors for head and neck cancers, especially in the mouth and voice box. Using tobacco and alcohol together makes your risk even higher than using either substance alone.
HPV infection (especially with type 16) is a risk factor for cancers of the tonsils and tongue. U.S. cases of oropharyngeal (throat) cancers caused by HPV infection are rising, and 90% are caused by chronic HPV infection.
Paan (or betel quid) is chewing tobacco made with betel leaves that are popular in Southeast Asia. But it’s strongly associated with an increased risk of mouth cancers.
Exposure to asbestos and synthetic fibers can raise your risk of voice box cancer. People who work in construction, metals, textiles, ceramics, logging and food manufacturing may be more vulnerable. Risks of paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancers increase with exposure to wood dust, nickel dust and formaldehyde.
Previous radiation therapy to the head and neck for noncancerous or cancerous conditions raises your risk for salivary gland cancer.
Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (more commonly known as the virus that causes mononucleosis) is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal (throat) and salivary gland cancers.
People with Asian ancestry (particularly Chinese) have an increased risk of developing nasopharyngeal (upper throat) cancer.
Inherited conditions like Fanconi anemia (a rare disease affecting bone marrow) increase the risk of developing head and neck as well as other cancers.
Symptoms of head and neck cancer vary, depending on the kind you have. Signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer commonly include the following:
One of these symptoms on its own may not mean you’ve developed cancer, but it’s important to take them seriously. If your symptoms persist, share your concerns with your Mercy doctor.
At Mercy, we’ve helped many people overcome head and neck cancer. Our goal is to provide the most advanced treatments with the fewest possible side effects.
Learn about diagnosis and treatment options for head and neck cancers.
At Mercy, we offer comprehensive cancer testing services to diagnose all types of head and neck cancer, including:
At Mercy, we offer compassionate care for a variety of oncology treatment services, including:
Discover how you can participate in an oncology clinical trial. Learn more.