Ear Nose Throat Cancer
Beacon Hospital Hotline
Ear Nose Throat Cancer
Ear Nose Throat (ENT) cancers, also known as Head and Neck cancers where a group of cancers that affect the soft tissue organs in the head and neck region. It is inclusive of the nasopharynx, oral cavity, lips, nose and paranasal sinuses, larynx, oropharynx, hypopharynx, thyroid and salivary gland cancers.
The most common sites of head and neck cancer are:
- Oral cavity
Less common sites include:
- Nasal cavity
- Paranasal sinuses
- Salivary glands
Types of head and neck cancer
There are several types of head and neck cancer:
- Oral cavity cancer– starts in the mouth
- Oropharyngealcancer – starts in the back of the mouth or the throat
- Nasal cavity cancer– starts in the opening behind the nose, a space that runs along the top of the roof of the mouth and then turns downward to join the back of the mouth and the throat
- Paranasalsinus cancer – starts in the openings around or near the nose called sinuses
- Nasopharyngealcancer – starts in the upper part of the throat behind the nose
- Laryngealcancer – starts in the voice box
- Hypopharyngealcancer – starts in the lower part of the throat beside and behind the voice box
There are several signs and symptoms for Head and Neck cancer. A doctor should be consulted if a lump in the neck persists for more than two weeks, is painless, and keeps growing.
Lumps in the neck may occur in the nose, thyroid and lymphoid cancers, as well as other ENT cancers. The position of the lump in the neck may give a clue to its cause.
Nosebleeds can also be a sign of cancer, in particular, nose cancer. Especially if bleeding is persistent, scanty, or associated with a headache or unusual smell, then it is important to get checked.
- A swelling, ulcer or sore area in the mouth
A swelling, ulcer or sore area in the mouth that does not go away within a week should be evaluated by a doctor. This is particularly important if accompanied by a lump in the neck.
- Hoarseness in the voice
Hoarseness in the voice can occur with cancers of the voice box. It can also be a sign of thyroid cancer. This is because nerves to the vocal cords run closely behind the thyroid gland and can be affected by cancer within the gland.
- Difficulty swallowing food
Difficulty swallowing food can be a sign of cancer of the throat and should be evaluated by a doctor. A swallowing x-ray or an oesophagoscopy may be necessary to find the cause.
- Pain or blockage in the ear
Pain or blockage in the ear can be due to disease or a tumour in the nose or throat. Nose cancers can present with a blocked ear or sometimes unexplained pain or discomfort around the ear as the only symptom.
Among the risk factors include:
- Alcohol and tobacco consumption – Increase cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx and larynx.
- Infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16, is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers, particularly oropharyngeal cancers that involve the tonsils or the base of the tongue.
Other risk factors for nasopharyngeal cancer include:
- Chewing betel quid – increases oral cancer
- Consuming preserved or salted foods – increases nasopharyngeal cancer
- Poor oral health – increases oral cancer
- Occupational exposure to wood dust – increases nasopharyngeal cancer
- Radiation exposure – Increases salivary cancer
- Epstein-Barr virus infection – Increases nasopharyngeal & salivary cancer
- Ancestry – Increases nasopharyngeal cancer
If an individual has any of the above symptoms, a full ENT examination is recommended.
- Nasal endoscopy is usually necessary if nose cancer is suspected or needs to be excluded. Nasal endoscopy involves passing a thin flexible camera into the nose to examine the nose and throat. The examination only takes a few minutes and is usually painless. Nasal endoscopy can examine the throat down to the level of the voice box; if an examination is required further into the food passage, then oesophagoscopy may be recommended.
- Blood tests: Certain blood tests can tell the doctor more about your overall health.
Several treatments for head and neck cancer are:
- Surgery: Surgery may be used to remove cancer and edges of healthy tissue around it and to take out lymph nodes in the neck that haven’t gotten better with other treatments.
- Radiotherapy: External beam radiation to kill cancer or to shrink it for the ease of surgery process.
- Chemotherapy: Uses drugs to kill cancer and often used along with radiotherapy.