What are head and neck cancers?
Head and neck cancers usually begin in the ‘squamous’ cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck areas. For example, inside the mouth, in the nose, and in the throat.
Head and neck cancers can also develop from squamous skin cells and then spread to glands in the head and neck.
These types of cancers can also be called ‘head and neck squamous cell carcinomas of the skin or of the mucosal lining’.
Cancers that begin in the salivary glands or thyroid are far less common, arise from different types of cells and are known by other names.
Head and neck cancers are categorised by the area they develop in.
Oral cavity cancer
Oral cavity cancers include the lips, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the gums, the lining inside the cheeks and lips, the floor (bottom) of the mouth under the tongue, the hard palate (bony top of the mouth), and the small area of the gum behind the wisdom teeth.
The pharynx (throat) is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and leads to the oesophagus.
It has three parts: the nasopharynx (the upper part of the pharynx, behind the nose); the oropharynx (the middle part of the pharynx, including the soft palate [the back of the mouth], the base of the tongue, and the tonsils); the hypopharynx (the lower part of the pharynx).
The larynx or ‘voice box’ is a short passageway formed by cartilage just below the pharynx in the neck.
The larynx contains the vocal cords, and it also has a small piece of tissue, called the epiglottis, which moves to cover the larynx to prevent food from entering the air passages.
Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity cancer
The paranasal sinuses are small hollow spaces in the bones of the head surrounding the nose. The nasal cavity is the hollow space inside the nose.
Salivary glands cancer
The major salivary glands are in the floor of the mouth and near the jawbone. The salivary glands produce saliva.