Every year, mouth, nose, and throat cancers affect nearly 65,000 people in the United States. These tumors are more common in men because smokers continue to outperform smokers and because oral papillomavirus (HPV) infection is more common in males. The most affected subjects are between 50 and 70 years old. However, cancers caused by HPV, which are primarily oropharyngeal cancers, occur more often in younger subjects.
Mouth, nose, and throat cancers are often considered together by doctors as they share certain characteristics, such as the type of tumor and the causes. More than 90% of mouth, nose, and throat cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which means that the tumor develops in the squamous cells that line the inside of the mouth, nose, or throat. Most people with mouth, nose, or throat cancers smoke or consume alcoholic beverages or both.
The most common sites of mouth, nose and throat cancer are
- the vocal cords (larynx)
- the inside of the mouth (including the tongue, floor of the mouth and the hard part of the palate)
Less common locations for these cancers are
- the bony cavities of the face around the nose (paranasal sinuses)
- the nasal cavity and the nasal passages
- the upper part of the throat (nasopharynx)
- the lower part of the throat (hypopharynx)
- the salivary glands
Common symptoms of mouth, nose and throat cancers include
- Presence of a mass in the neck
- A painful open sore or an outgrowth in the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing and consequent weight loss
Sometimes red or white spots (erythroplakia or leukoplakia) in the mouth may be the initial symptoms.
- Examination by a doctor or dentist
- Diagnostic imaging tests to determine the extent (so-called staging)
Some tumors inside the mouth are initially asymptomatic but can be detected or palpated by a doctor or dentist during a normal mouth inspection. If a person complains of symptoms, the doctor may use a flexible visualization tube, called an endoscope, to examine the deeper regions of the mouth, nose, and throat. The diagnosis is made by examining a sample of tissue, the so-called biopsy, of the suspected tumor. Doctors insert a needle into the outgrowth to pick up a small amount of tissue or cut a piece of it using a scalpel.