Understanding your risk
Like other cancers, your risk depends on many variables, including:
- Family history
- Lifestyle behavior (e.g. smoking and alcohol use)
- General health
Optum’s oncology department offers comprehensive cancer risk assessments and hereditary cancer genetics evaluation programs to help you identify your risk.
During a diagnostic evaluation, the doctor will first evaluate your medical history and discuss the frequency and length of symptoms with you. Because there are many types of head and neck cancers, there are a wide range of symptoms.
Before imaging tests are conducted, your doctor will give you a physical examination. This entails feeling for lumps around the neck, jaw, cheeks, gums and lips, as well as inspecting the inside the nose, mouth, and throat to determine if any abnormalities are present.
If your doctor decides further inspection is necessary they will use one or more of the following techniques to detect possible cancer:
Sometimes, a normal physical examination doesn’t provide the doctor with enough information. That is when a flexible imaging device called an endoscope is inserted through the nose so that the doctor can examine the inside of the pharynx or larynx.
When cancer is suspected to exist in the neck area, you may be asked to swallow a small amount of barium while an x-ray is performed. The barium will help doctors see if any abnormalities exist in the swallowing passage.
If a growth is suspected to be near your jawbone or bony area of the roof of the mouth, some doctors may choose to perform a panoramic radiograph. This procedure provides images from several angles of these two areas.
MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging)/ CT scan (computed tomography)
When cancerous growths are suspected in the tonsils, tongue, neck, larynx or elsewhere, an MRI is performed. This style of imaging is effective at providing detailed images of soft tissue.
Once a growth or abnormal tissue is identified, doctors will perform a biopsy to determine if it is cancerous. The doctor will obtain a sample of the tissue and send it to a pathologist to be tested. If the results determine that cancer is present, treatment will need to be administered.
Types of head and neck cancer
The type of treatment that is recommended will depend on multiple factors:
- The stage of the cancer, the location of the cancer and the type of cancer
- Your ability to eat, breathe, talk, and drink
- Your general health
- A discussion of the treatment options between you, your family and your physician
The most common treatment options include:
- Chemotherapy: a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in your body
- Surgery: performed either before or after another form of treatment to remove the cancerous area
Medical care and help
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