Head and neck cancer

Cancer can occur in any of the tissues or organs in the head and neck. There are over 30 different places that cancer can develop in the head and neck area.

Symptoms of head and neck cancers

  • an ulcer in the mouth that doesn't heal within a few weeks
  • red or white patches in the mouth that don't go away within a few weeks
  • difficulty swallowing or pain when chewing or swallowing
  • changes to your voice (for example, hoarseness)
  • a constant sore throat and earache on one side
  • a swelling or lump in the face, mouth or neck.

Less common symptoms include

  • a loose tooth
  • a blocked nose or nosebleeds
  • pain or numbness in the face or upper jaw.

Although these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, it's important to have them checked out by your GP or dentist, particularly if they continue.

Lumps in the neck

If a cancer in the mouth or throat spreads from where it started, the first place it will usually spread to is the lymph nodes in the neck. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are part of the lymphatic system.

The cancer may begin to grow in the lymph nodes. This can show up as a painless lump in the neck.

Enlarged lymph nodes are much more likely to be due to an infection than to cancer. But if you have a lump on your neck that hasn't gone away within 3-4 weeks, it should be examined by a specialist doctor.

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

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