Throat, Head and Neck Cancer Causes, Prognosis, Stages, and Diagnosis
An estimated 48,000 new head and neck, as well as 37,000 thyroid cancers, are diagnosed in the United States each year.
Head and Neck Tumors
Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas that develop in the epithelial cells that line the mouth, throat, voice box, thyroid and parathyroid, salivary glands, nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, and parotid and submandibular glands after exposure to carcinogens, such as tobacco and alcohol. However, increasing evidence suggests that a subset of head and neck cancers may be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer.
Some other factors that may increase risk are:
- Age: Most head and neck cancers are found in people age 50 and older.
- Gender: Men are at greater risk than women.
- Race: African-Americans have a higher rate of head and neck cancer than do whites, Hispanics, or Asians.
- Personal history: Alcohol use, especially when combined with tobacco use, has been associated with an increased risk.
Dr. Steven Hodak discusses the innovative and comprehensive patient experience at the UPMC Multidisciplinary Thyroid Center
- Thyroid cancer forms in the cells of the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck that produces hormones that help to control heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight.
- Although anyone can develop thyroid cancer; research has shown that certain factors may increase a person's risk for developing the disease, including age, gender, race, family history, and radiation exposure.
- The majority of the lumps or nodules found in the thyroid are generally benign (noncancerous).
- Those that are cancerous fall into four main types based on the types of cells that mutate: papillary (80 percent of thyroid cancer), follicular, medullary, and anaplastic thyroid cancer.
In the early stages, thyroid cancer usually does not cause symptoms, but as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
- Lump or nodule in front of the neck
- Hoarseness or voice changes
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Pain in the throat or neck
Diagnosis and Staging
UPMC CancerCenter specialists use state-of-the-art diagnostic technologies to diagnosis and stage head and neck cancers. Patient assessments may include:
- Endoscopic biopsy, or needle biopsy
- High-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nutritional assessment
- Positron emission- and computed tomography (PET/CT)
- Speech and swallowing evaluation
Additionally, your head and neck surgeon may perform a minimally invasive staging procedure of the head and neck lesion, to accurately assess extent of disease.