Head and neck masses aren’t particularly unusual. An unusual growth or lump is worrisome, but in many cases turns out to be nothing more than enlarged lymph nodes caused by inflammation or infection, or benign lesions.
Regardless, any unresolved head or neck mass needs to be evaluated to rule out a serious condition such as cancer.
Early diagnosis and evaluation is important to maximize treatment options and outcomes.
What Causes Cancers of the Head and Neck?
Most tumors in the head and neck are known as squamous cell carcinomas. They form in the lining of the mucosal surfaces in and around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, and mouth. When they spread to surrounding lymph nodes, they are considered malignant. Approximately 90% of head and neck cancers can be attributed to tobacco and alcohol use. Exposure to radiation may lead to cancer of the thyroid glands. Cancers that develop in this region are known as primary.
Secondary cancers form in other parts of the body and spread to the head or neck. They often originate in the lungs, breasts, kidneys, or skin.
When Should I See a Doctor?
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with your physician.
- A persistent lump that does not heal after two weeks
- Chronic hoarseness
- Blood in the saliva
- Swollen tongue, jaw, or lymph nodes
- A sore throat that does not go away
- Difficulty swallowing
- Facial numbness
- Sinus infection that does not respond to treatment
- Unexplained weight loss
Your doctor will give you a thorough physical examination and is likely to order a number of additional lab tests including CT scan, MRI, PET scan, and biopsy. Treatment depends on the type and stage of your cancer, as well as your overall age and health. You may undergo surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these therapies.