Four main symptoms of head and neck cancer – surgeons advice

There are hundreds of types of cancer that can develop in the human body.

Generally the symptoms will depend on where the disease is located.

This is the case with head and neck cancer, the name for a group of cancers that can affect more than 30 areas of the head and neck.

These include the mouth, larynx, salivary glands, nose and sinuses.

Despite how many areas it can affect, it is not as well known as other forms of the disease meaning symptoms can go by unnoticed, an expert warned.

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Alastair Fry, consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Bupa’s Cromwell Hospital, spoke with to explain more about the disease.

He said: “Head and neck cancer is cancer within either the mouth, the neck, the throat, or the face, it can also involve the jaw, the tongue, the palette and can spread to the lymph glands in the neck.

“The most common type is mouth cancer which accounts for about 90 percent of all head and neck cancers.

“There are also rarer types which often involve the salivary glands and are managed slightly differently.”

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Symptoms of head and neck cancer

He said: “Head and neck cancer can present in a number of different ways and therefore can have a number of different symptoms.

“They often mimic symptoms of other less serious conditions, for example people may think they have a dental condition.

“The classic symptoms are a new pain or lump within the mouth or neck which has been present for a number of weeks.

“Other people experience numbness or loosening of the teeth in a certain area.”

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He shared four “main” symptoms that he typically sees in his line of work.

“The main symptoms I see at Cromwell Hospital are white patches or ulcers in the mouth, or a lump within the mouth or neck, difficulty swallowing or changes to the voice, either of these symptoms may have been picked up by the patient or by their dentist,” Mr Fry said.

“It’s so important that if people have any of these symptoms that they come forward as we know the outcome for head and neck cancer is much better if caught and treated early.”

How to check yourself for head and neck cancer

He advised: “Be on the lookout for ulcers or white patches in your mouth and make sure you get them checked out if they’ve been present for more than a week.

“Make sure you’re also regularly attending check-ups with your dentist who will check for mouth cancer during your appointment.

“Lots of patients we see have been referred to us by their dentist.

“Another thing to look out for is lumps in the neck, difficulty swallowing or changes to the voice. If you notice these make sure you get a medical opinion.”

He added that the main risk factors for head and neck cancer are smoking, drinking alcohol and chewing tobacco.

If you experience symptoms of head and neck cancer you should speak to your GP.

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