Cancer of the head and neck


Head and neck cancer is a general term to describe different cancers in the area. These include:

  • mouth and lips
  • voice box (larynx)
  • throat (pharynx)
  • salivary glands
  • nose and sinuses
  • the back of the nose and mouth (nasopharynx)

Around 12,400 new cases are diagnosed in the UK each year. In the UK, head and neck cancer is the 4th most common cancer in men.

The main risk factors for head and neck cancer are tobacco and alcohol. Some cancers are linked to an infection with a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV).

Mouth cancer

Mouth cancer (oral cancer) is the most common type of head and neck cancer.

It can affect areas in and around the mouth, including the:

  • lips
  • tongue
  • inside of the cheek
  • floor or roof of the mouth
  • gums

Symptoms of mouth cancer can include:

  • Non-healing mouth ulcers
  • Unexplained, persistent lumps in your mouth

Read more about mouth cancer.

Laryngeal cancer

Laryngeal cancer develops in the tissue of the larynx (voice box).

Symptoms of laryngeal cancer:

  • a change in the voice, such as persistent hoarseness
  • difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • noisy breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • a persistent cough
  • a lump or swelling in your neck

Read more about laryngeal cancer.

Throat cancer

Throat cancer is a general term that describes several different types of cancer. It is not a precise medical term so doctors don't tend to use it.

Areas that can be affected include:

  • oropharynx - the back of the mouth
  • hypopharynx - connects the oropharynx to the gullet and windpipe
  • nasopharynx - connects the back of the nose to the back of the mouth

Symptoms of throat cancer include:

  • ear pain
  • sore throat
  • lump in the neck
  • difficulty swallowing
  • change in voice or speech
  • unexplained weight loss
  • a cough
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling that something is stuck in the throat

Read more about throat cancers:

Salivary gland cancer

Salivary glands produce saliva, which keeps your mouth moist and helps with swallowing and digestion. There are 3 main pairs of salivary glands and over 600 smaller glands.

Symptoms of salivary gland cancer include:

  • a lump or swelling on or near the jaw, in your mouth, or neck
  • numbness in part of your face
  • drooping on one side of your face

Read more about salivary gland cancer:

Nasal and sinus cancer

This cancer affects the nasal cavity (space behind the nose) or the sinuses (small, air-filled cavities inside the bones of the nose and within the cheekbones and forehead).

There are many non-serious conditions that can cause the same symptoms as cancer.

Symptoms of nose and sinus cancer may include:

  • persistent blocked nose, which usually only affects 1 side
  • nosebleeds
  • decreased sense of smell
  • mucus running from the nose or down the throat

People with nasal and sinus cancer may experience symptoms affecting the eye:

  • bulging of one eye
  • loss of sight
  • double vision
  • pain above or below the eye
  • watery eye

Other symptoms:

  • Lump on the face, nose or roof of the mouth
  • Pain or tingling in the face
  • Headache
  • Loose teeth
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Pain or pressure in the ear

Read more about salivary gland cancer:

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 19/03/2024 11:27:58