From the esophagus to the paranasal sinuses, head and neck cancers are a subspecialty for otolaryngologists, doctors who focus on the ears, nose, and throat (ENTs). While your facial skin, brain, esophagus, and thyroids can also experience cancers, these are typically handled by other specialists. 

The professionals at Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat Center are skin cancer surgery specialists, but the five types of head and neck cancers are their primary focus. Each of these derives its name from the part of the anatomy affected, though most head and neck cancers develop the same way. 

When you have questions or concerns about this or any other ENT-related condition, contact Lakeshore ENT at your earliest convenience. 

Squamous cell carcinomas

The five common head and neck cancers most often begin with changes to squamous cell tissue. These cells make up the thin surface tissue called the epithelium, which lines the structures in your head and neck. 

Typically, cancerous changes remain in the epithelium for a period of time before moving into the mucosa layer below it, creating a more serious condition. 

Though squamous cell carcinoma is the most common, other cancers of unknown origin can also develop. Therefore, each of the five head and neck cancers are usually classed as: 

  • Carcinoma in situ: When only the epithelium is affected
  • Invasive squamous cell carcinoma: When cancer moves into deeper tissue
  • Carcinoma of unknown primary: When it’s not clear where the cancer began

Treatment of resulting tumors depends on where in the head and neck the cancer is focused. 

Head and neck cancers: types and symptoms

Though most often starting with changes in the epithelium, each of the five cancer types tends to produce their own symptoms. 

Oropharyngeal cancer

“Oropharyngeal” refers to the mouth and tongue area. Cancer here may be revealed by patches of white or red on the gums, mouth lining, or tongue. Unexplained pain or bleeding are other potential symptoms, and denture wearers may notice a change in their fit due to swelling. 

Nasopharyngeal cancer

The nasopharynx sits behind the nose at the top of the throat. When cancer hits here, you may have breathing issues or problems when swallowing. You could have neck pain or a sore throat that doesn’t go away. Cancer here can also cause ear pain, hearing issues and headaches. 

Laryngeal cancer

Cancer of the larynx typically causes ear pain and pain when swallowing. 

Nasal and paranasal sinus cancer

Chronic sinus congestion that doesn’t respond to treatment can reveal cancer present in the nasal cavity and the paranasal sinuses that surround it. You might also have nosebleeds, headaches, or swelling around the eyes. 

Salivary gland cancer

The salivary glands produce saliva, and this cancer typically causes under-chin swelling, numbness or pain in the face, chin, or neck, or muscle paralysis. 

As with any cancer, early detection improves your chances for successful treatment. Contact Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat Center at the earliest sign of trouble. There are five locations in the Detroit area, and you can reach the nearest by phone or online. Book your appointment now.