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Cancer that begins in the cells that line the moist mucus membrane inside the mouth, nose and throat are referred to collectively as head and neck cancer. Called squamous cells, they are susceptible to cancerous growths usually caused by alcohol and tobacco use.

Symptoms & Causes

Cancer occurring in the oral cavity will show a white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth. Unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth can also be a sign. Cancer occurring in the throat can cause trouble breathing, speaking or swallowing. Frequent headaches, pain and ringing in the ears can also be signs. Cancer occurring in the nasal cavity can cause blockage, infections, nose bleeds, headaches, pain in your teeth or problems fitting dentures. Cancer in all three areas is caused by tobacco usage in 75 percent of cases. Infection with human papillomavirus can also be a cause.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your doctor will look at your medical history, your symptoms and a physical evaluation to determine if cancer is likely. Then, a biopsy is needed to examine a tissue sample under a microscope to officially diagnose cancer of the head and neck. Treatment for head and neck cancer varies greatly depending on a number of different aspects about the cancer, and the patient. Avenues can include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.


Quitting tobacco use is the best way to reduce your risk of developing a cancer of the head and neck. Even smokeless tobacco can cause damage, and increase your chances.