Head & Neck Cancers: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

  • 31 Jul 2023

Head and neck cancer ranks among the top 10 most common cancer globally, with more than 800 Singaporeans diagnosed with the cancer each year. However, there are steps one can take to lower the risk of developing head and neck cancer. We find out more from our general surgery specialist, Dr. Tan Ngian Chye.

What are head and neck cancers?

Head and neck cancers are usually related to malignant tumors found in the upper aerodigestive tract.

The upper aerodigestive tract includes:

• Nasal cavity
• Nasopharynx
• Paranasal sinuses
• Oral cavity
• Oropharynx
• Hypopharynx and oesophagus
• Larynx

What are the symptoms of head and neck cancer?

The common symptoms of head and neck cancer are as follows:

• Dysphagia (Difficulty in swallowing)
• Odynophagia (Pain on swallowing)
• Non-healing mouth or tongue ulcers
• Neck lumps
• Epistaxis (Nose bleeding)
• Haemoptysis (Blood in sputum)
• Persistent hoarseness

What are some common risk factors?

Some of the common risk factors that can cause head and neck cancer include:

• Smoking
• Heavy alcohol consumption
• Betel nut (areca nut) chewing
• Tobacco chewing
• Chronic irritation from ill-fitting dentures
• Being on immunosuppressants
• Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

How can you reduce your risk of developing head and neck cancer?

The cessation of smoking or heavy alcohol consumption would be helpful to prevent head and neck cancers. Patients with dentures should see their dentist regularly to ensure that their dentures are fitted properly.

Similarly, patients who encounter frequent gum or mouth irritation from the impact of sharp teeth should consult their doctors or dentists.

What are some treatment options available?

Treating head and neck cancers usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. A multidisciplinary approach is crucial to the management of patients with head and neck cancers.

The prognosis depends largely on the location and stage of the cancer. Early cancers (Stage I and II) can have a cure rate of up to 90%.

Contributed by

Dr. Tan Ngian Chye
General Surgery
NC Tan Surgery
Farrer Park Hospital