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Head and Neck Cancer

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:

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
  • Ultrasound

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.