Head and Neck Cancer
Insight into recognizing symptoms for early detection● Early detection of head and neck cancer● Symptoms of head and neck cancerand more...
This year, more than 55,000 Americans will develop cancer of the head and neck (most of which is preventable); nearly 13,000 of them will die from it.
Early detection of head and neck cancerTobacco use is the most preventable cause of these deaths. In the United States, up to 200,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses. The good news is that this figure has decreased due to the increasing number of Americans who have quit smoking. The bad news is that some of these smokers switched to smokeless or spit tobacco, assuming it is a safe alternative. This is untrue. By doing so, they are only changing the site of the cancer risk from their lungs to their mouths. While lung cancer cases are decreasing, cancers in the head and neck appear to be increasing, but they are curable if caught early. Fortunately, most head and neck cancers produce early symptoms. You should know the potential warning signs so you can alert your doctor as soon as possible. Remember—successful treatment of head and neck cancer depends on early detection. Knowing and recognizing its signs can save your life.
Symptoms of head and neck cancerA lump in the neck. Cancers that begin in the head or neck usually spread to lymph nodes in the neck before they spread elsewhere. A lump in the neck that lasts more than two weeks should be seen by a physician as soon as possible. Of course, not all lumps are cancer. But a lump (or lumps) in the neck can be the first sign of cancer of the mouth, throat, voicebox (larynx), thyroid gland, or of certain lymphomas and blood cancers. Such lumps are generally painless and continue to enlarge steadily.
Change in the voice. Most cancers in the larynx cause some changes in voice. An otolaryngologist is a head and neck specialist who can examine your vocal cords easily and painlessly. While most voice changes are not caused by cancer, you shouldn’t take chances. If you are hoarse or notice voice changes for more than two weeks, see your doctor.
A growth in the mouth. Most cancers of the mouth or tongue cause a sore or swelling that doesn’t go away. These may be painless, which can be misleading. Bleeding may occur, but often not until late in the disease. If an ulcer or swelling is accompanied by lumps in the neck, you should be concerned. In addition, any sore or swelling in the mouth that does not go away after a week should be evaluated by a physician. Your dentist or doctor can determine if a biopsy (tissue sample test) is needed and can refer you to a head and neck surgeon who can perform this procedure.
Bringing up blood. This is often caused by something other than cancer. However, tumors in the nose, mouth, throat, or lungs can cause bleeding. If blood appears in your saliva or phlegm for more than a few days, you should see your physician.
Swallowing problems. Cancer of the throat or esophagus (swallowing tube) may make swallowing solid foods—and sometimes liquids—difficult. The food may “stick” at a certain point and then either go through to the stomach or come back up. If you have trouble almost every time you try to swallow something, you should be examined by a physician. Usually a barium swallow x-ray or an esophagoscopy (direct examination of the swallowing tube with a scope) will be performed to find the cause.
Changes in the skin. The most common head and neck cancer is basal cell cancer of the skin. Fortunately, this is rarely serious if treated early. Basal cell cancers appear most often on sun-exposed areas like the forehead, face, and ears, but can occur almost anywhere on the skin. Basal cell cancer often begins as a small, pale patch that enlarges slowly, producing a central “dimple” and eventually an ulcer. Parts of the ulcer may heal, but the major portion remains ulcerated. Some basal cell cancers show color changes. Other kinds of cancer, including squamous cell cancer and malignant melanoma, also occur on the head and neck. Most squamous cell cancers occur on the lower lip and ear. They may look like basal cell cancers, and if caught early and properly treated, usually are not dangerous. If there is a sore on the lip, lower face, or ear that does not heal, consult a physician. Malignant melanoma typically produces a blue-black or black discoloration of the skin. However, any mole that changes size, color, or begins to bleed may mean trouble. A black or blue-black spot on the face or neck, particularly if it changes size or shape, should be seen as soon as possible by a dermatologist or other physician.
Persistent earache. Constant pain in or around the ear when you swallow can be a sign of infection or tumor growth in the throat. This is particularly serious if it is associated with difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness, or a lump in the neck. These symptoms should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist.
Identifying high risk of head and neck cancerAs many as 90 percent of head and neck cancers arise after prolonged exposure to specific risk factors. Use of tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, or snuff) and alcoholic beverages are the most common cause of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, and tongue. In adults who do not smoke or drink, cancer of the throat can occur as a result of infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). Prolonged exposure to sunlight is linked with cancer of the lip and is also established as a major cause of skin cancer.
What you should do. All of the symptoms and signs described here can occur with no cancer present. In fact, many times complaints of this type are due to some other condition. But you can’t tell without an examination. So if they do occur, see your doctor to be sure.
Remember—when found early, most cancers in the head and neck can be cured with few side effects. Cure rates for these cancers could be greatly improved if people would seek medical advice as soon as possible. Play it safe. If you detect warning signs of head and neck cancer, see your doctor immediately. And practice health habits which help prevent these diseases.
Thyroid Disorders and Surgery
Insight into complications and treatment● What is a thyroid disorder?● What treatment may be recommended?● What is thyroid surgery?
Your thyroid gland is one of the endocrine glands that makes hormones to regulate physiological functions in your body, like metabolism (heart rate, sweating, energy consumed). Other endocrine glands include the pituitary, adrenal, and parathyroid glands and specialized cells within the pancreas.
The thyroid gland is located in the middle of the lower neck, below the larynx (voice box) and wraps around the front half of the trachea (windpipe). It is shaped like a bow tie, just above the collarbones, having two halves (lobes) joined by a small tissue bar (isthmus.). You can’t always feel a normal thyroid gland.
What is a thyroid disorder?
Diseases of the thyroid gland are very common, affecting millions of Americans. The most common thyroid problems are:
An overactive gland, called hyperthyroidism (e.g., Graves’ disease, toxic adenoma or toxic nodular goiter)
An underactive gland, called hypothyroidism (e.g., Hashimoto’s thyroiditis)
Thyroid enlargement due to overactivity (as in Graves’ disease) or from under-activity (as in hypothyroidism). An enlarged thyroid gland is often called a “goiter.”
Patients with a family history of thyroid cancer or who had radiation therapy to the head or neck as children for acne, adenoids, or other reasons are more prone to develop thyroid malignancy.
If you develop significant swelling in your neck or difficulty breathing or swallowing, you should call your surgeon or be seen in the emergency room.
What treatment may be recommended?
Depending on the nature of your condition, treatment may include the following:
Hypothyroidism treatment: Thyroid hormone replacement pills
Medication to block the effects of excessive production of thyroid hormone
Radioactive iodine to destroy the thyroid gland
Surgical removal of the thyroid gland
If you experience this condition, your doctor will propose a treatment plan based on the examination and your test results. He may recommend:
An imaging study to determine the size, location, and characteristics of any nodules within the gland. Types of imaging studies include CT or CAT scans, ultrasound, or MRIs.
A fine-needle aspiration biopsy—a safe, relatively painless procedure. With this procedure, a hypodermic needle is passed into the lump, and tissue fluid samples containing cells are taken. Several passes with the needle may be required. Sometimes ultrasound is used to guide the needle into the nodule. There is little pain afterward and very few complications from the procedure. This test gives the doctor more information on the nature of the lump in your thyroid gland and may help to differentiate a benign from a malignant or cancerous thyroid mass.
Thyroid surgery may be required when:
the fine needle aspiration is reported as suspicious or suggestive of cancer
imaging shows that nodules have worrisome characteristics or that nodules are getting bigger
the trachea (windpipe) or esophagus are compressed because both lobes are very large
Historically, some thyroid nodules, including some that are malignant, have shown a reduction in size with the administration of thyroid hormone. However, this treatment, known as medical “suppression” therapy, has proven to be an unreliable treatment method.
What is thyroid surgery?
Thyroid surgery is an operation to remove part or all of the thyroid gland. It is performed in the hospital, and general anesthesia is usually required. Typically, the operation removes the lobe of the thyroid gland containing the lump and possibly the isthmus. A frozen section (immediate microscopic reading) may be used to determine if the rest of the thyroid gland should be removed during the same surgery.
Sometimes, based on the result of the frozen section, the surgeon may decide not to remove any additional thyroid tissue, or proceed to remove the entire thyroid gland, and/or other tissue in the neck. This decision is usually made in the operating room by the surgeon, based on findings at the time of surgery. Your surgeon will discuss these options with you preoperatively.
As an alternative, your surgeon may choose to remove only one lobe and await the final pathology report before deciding if the remaining lobe needs to be removed. There also may be times when the definite microscopic answer cannot be determined until several days after surgery. If a malignancy is identified in this way, your surgeon may recommend that the remaining lobe of the thyroid be removed at a second procedure. If you have specific questions about thyroid surgery, ask your otolaryngologist to answer them in detail.
What happens after thyroid surgery?
During the first 24 hours:
After surgery, you may have a drain (tiny piece of plastic tubing), which prevents fluid and blood from building up in the wound. This is removed after the fluid accumulation has stabilized, usually within 24 hours after surgery. Most patients are discharged later the same day or the next day. Complications are rare but may include:
Bleeding under the skin that rarely can cause shortness of breath requiring immediate medical evaluation
A hoarse voice
Numbness of the skin on the neck
Vocal cord paralysis
Low blood calcium
Following the procedure, if it is determined that you need to take any medication, your surgeon will discuss this with you prior to your discharge. Medications may include:
Thyroid hormone replacement
Calcium and/or vitamin D replacement
Some symptoms may not become evident for two or three days after surgery. If you experience any of the following, call your surgeon or seek medical attention:
Numbness and tingling around the lips and hands
Shortness of breath
If a malignancy is identified, thyroid replacement medication may be withheld for several weeks. This allows a radioactive scan to better detect any remaining microscopic thyroid tissue, or spread of malignant cells to lymph nodes or other sites in the body.
How is a diagnosis made?
The diagnosis of a thyroid function abnormality or a thyroid mass is made by taking a medical history and a physical examination. In addition, blood tests and imaging studies or fine-needle aspiration may be required. As part of the exam, your doctor will examine your neck and ask you to lift up your chin to make your thyroid gland more prominent. You may be asked to swallow during the examination, which helps to feel the thyroid and any mass in it. Tests your doctor may order include:
Evaluation of the larynx/vocal cords with a mirror or a fiberoptic telescope
An ultrasound examination of your neck and thyroid
Blood tests of thyroid function
A radioactive thyroid scan
A fine-needle aspiration biopsy
A chest X-ray
A CT or MRI scan
● Insight into causes and treatments● How does the Temporo-Mandibular Joint work?● What causes TMJ pain?● How is TMJ pain treated?and more!
Open your jaw all the way and shut it. This simple movement would not be possible without the Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ). It connects the temporal bone (the bone that forms the side of the skull) and the mandible (the lower jaw). Even though it is only a small disc of cartilage, it separates the bones so that the mandible may slide easily whenever you talk, swallow, chew, kiss, etc. Therefore, damage to this complex, triangular structure in front of your ear, can cause considerable discomfort.
Where is the Temporo-Mandibular Joint?You can locate this joint by putting your finger on the triangular structure in front of your ear. Then move your finger just slightly forward and press firmly while you open your jaw all the way and close it. You can also feel the joint motion in your ear canal.
How does the Temporo-Mandibular Joint work?When you bite down hard, you put force on the object between your teeth and on the Temporo-Mandibular Joint. In terms of physics, the jaw is the lever and the TMJ is the fulcrum. Actually, more force is applied (per square foot) to the joint surface than to whatever is between your teeth because the cartilage between the bones provides a smooth surface, over which the joint can freely slide with minimal friction.
Therefore, the forces of chewing can be distributed over a wider surface in the joint space and minimize the risk of injury. In addition, several muscles contribute to opening and closing the jaw and aid in the function of the TMJ.
What causes TMJ pain?In most patients, pain associated with the TMJ is a result of displacement of the cartilage disc that causes pressure and stretching of the associated sensory nerves. The popping or clicking occurs when the disk snaps into place when the jaw moves. In addition, the chewing muscles may spasm, not function efficiently, and cause pain and tenderness.
What causes damage to the TMJ?● Major and minor trauma to the jaw● Teeth grinding● Excessive gum chewing● Stress and other psychological factors● Improper bite or malpositioned jaws● Arthritis● What are the symptoms?● Ear pain● Sore jaw muscles● Temple/cheek pain● Jaw popping/clicking● Locking of the jaw● Difficulty in opening the mouth fully● Frequent head/neck aches
The pain may be sharp and searing, occurring each time you swallow, yawn, talk, or chew, or it may be dull and constant. It hurts over the joint, immediately in front of the ear, but pain can also radiate elsewhere. It often causes spasms in the adjacent muscles that are attached to the bones of the skull, face, and jaws. Then, pain can be felt at the side of the head (the temple), the cheek, the lower jaw, and the teeth.
A very common focus of pain is in the ear. Many patients come to the ear specialist quite convinced their pain is from an ear infection. When the earache is not associated with a hearing loss and the eardrum looks normal, the doctor will consider the possibility that the pain comes from TMJ.
There are a few other symptoms besides pain that TMJ can cause. It can make popping, clicking, or grinding sounds when the jaws are opened widely. Or the jaw locks wide open (dislocated). At the other extreme, TMJ can prevent the jaws from fully opening. Some people get ringing in their ears from TMJ.
How is TMJ pain treated?Because TMJ symptoms often develop in the head and neck, otolaryngologists are appropriately qualified to diagnose TMJ problems. Proper diagnosis of TMJ begins with a detailed history and physical, including careful assessment of the teeth occlusion and function of the jaw joints and muscles. An early diagnosis will likely respond to simple, self-remedies:
Rest the muscles and joints by eating soft foods.Do not chew gum.Avoid clenching or tensing.Relax muscles with moist heat (1/2 hour at least twice daily).In cases of joint injury, apply ice packs soon after the injury to reduce swelling. Relaxation techniques and stress reduction, patient education, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants or other medications may also offer relief.
Other treatments for advanced cases may include fabrication of an occlusal splint to prevent wear and tear on the joint, improving the alignment of the upper and lower teeth, and surgery. After diagnosis, your otolaryngologist may suggest further consultation with your dentist and oral surgeon to facilitate effective management of TMJ pain.
Pediatric Head and Neck Tumors
Tumors or growths in the head and neck region may be divided into those that are benign (not cancerous) and malignant (i.e., cancer). Fortunately, most growths in the head and neck region in children are considered to be benign. These benign growths can be related to infection, inflammation, fluid collections, swellings, or neoplasms (tumors) that are non life-threatening. The malignant growths, on the other hand, may be life-threatening and cause other problems related to their growth and spread. Even the malignant growths in the head and neck are usually treatable.
It is very common for children to have enlarged tonsils and adenoids. These are almost always from an infection or inflammation. It is very rare that children develop a cancer, lymphoma, or sarcoma of these areas. When the tonsils, adenoids, or other areas of the mouth or throat remain enlarged or are enlarged on only one side, it is important to have an evaluation by a specialist in ear, nose and throat or otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.
The lymph nodes of the neck region may become enlarged during childhood. Most of the time, this is reactive in nature and related to inflammation or infection. However, if the lymph nodes remain enlarged for a period of time without going away, it is important to have an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon evaluate the problem.
Other benign growths in the face and neck include cysts (fluid collection) such as branchial cleft cyst, thyroglossal duct cyst, cystic hygroma, and dermoid cysts. These often require removal due to their continued growth and potential for infection. Growths of blood vessels often are seen in the face and neck and these are often referred to as hemangiomas, vascular malformations, lymphatic and arteriovenous malformations (AVM). Some of these may require removal or treatment depending upon the type and location.
Sinus and Nose Growths
Although most children have nose bleeds and occasional allergies and sinus infection, sometimes tumors of the nose and sinus present with similar symptoms. It is generally recommended that a child with continuous sinus problems or nose bleeds be evaluated by an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon to be sure it is not a tumor or other treatable condition.
Non-epithelial neoplasms constitute the majority of sinonasal (sinus) tumors in children and adolescents. Among these, rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or undifferentiated sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma account for the majority of cases. Among head and neck RMS 14 percent arise from the nasal cavity and 10 percent from the paranasal sinuses. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma accounts for one third of the nasopharyngeal neoplasms in children. As is the case in adult patients, it is associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection as demonstrated by EBV DNA presence in malignant cells. Less frequently, Ewing's sarcoma/PNET can present in this location. These tumors have also been described as secondary malignancies following treatment of retinoblastoma and other neoplasms. Esthesioneuroblastoma is a rare sinonasal tumor historically related to Ewing/PNET, although more recently comparative genomic hybridization analysis disputes this relation. Other less common sinonasal tumors presenting in children include hemangioma and hemagiopericitoma, fibroma and fibrosarcoma, malignant fibrous histiocytoma, and desmoid fibromatosis.
Salivary Gland Tumors
There are three paired sets of salivary glands in the head and neck region. These include the ones in front of the ears (parotid), below the jaw (submandibular), and underneath the tongue (sublingual). Additionally, there are numerous very small salivary glands throughout the mouth and throat. Although tumors can arise in these areas, they are rare. Thus, any child with a growth in these areas should be seen by an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon.
The thyroid gland is found in the front of the lower part of the neck just above the chest area but below the Adam's apple on both sides. Although tumors can arise in this area, they are rare. Thus, any child with a growth in this area should be seen by an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon.