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Types of Head & Neck Cancer

Neck Tumours


  Tumors, or neoplasms, are abnormal growths of tissue. They can be benign or malignant (cancerous).


  The difference between the two is that benign tumors grow slowly and push normal tissues aside, while malignant tumors grow into, invade and destroy surroundings tissues. Malignant tissues also can metastasise or break from the initial tumor and grow in other sites of the body. The most common malignant tumor of the head and neck is squamous cell cancer. Specific sites, such as the salivary glands or thyroid glands, may have other types of cancer.


  Benign or malignant tumors often cause no symptoms other than the presence of a hard or firm lump. Other worrisome symptoms are site-specific and include bleeding ulcer of the mouth, persistent throat pain or persistent  hoarseness. Tests used to diagnose a head or neck cancer include specialised X-rays (CT scans or MRI), swallowing tests and tissue samples from the tumor either by biopsy or fine needle aspiration.


  Head and neck tumors are treated by surgery, sometimes using lasers, or radiation therapy. For certain tumor types or extensive tumors, chemotherapy may also be used. Benign tumors are generally treated with surgery alone.


  Rehabilitation and follow-up after treatment is as important as the treatment itself. Rehabilitation may require the expertise of a team of specialists that include dentists and prosthedontists, tracheostomy care nurses, speech pathologists and physical therapists. Follow-up after treatment is important to check for tumor recurrence or new tumors. When found early, recurring tumors have a better chance of being successfully treated. Follow-up frequency and duration depends on many factors and may last for five years or more.


Copyright N Kalavrezos 2013

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