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Head & Neck Cancer

Most head and neck cancers begin in the cells that line the mucosal surfaces in the head and neck area, e.g. mouth, nose, and throat. Mucosal surfaces are moist tissues lining hollow organs and cavities of the body open to the environment.

Head and Neck cancers include tumours above the level of the collar bone (excluding the brain and eye). They are made up of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, sinuses and ear and neck (SCCHN).

Cancers of the head and neck are further identified by the area in which they begin:

Oral Cavity: The oral cavity includes the lips, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the gingival (gums), the buccal mucosa (lining inside the cheeks and lips), the floor (bottom) of the mouth under the tongue, the hard plate (bony top of the mouth), and the small area behind the wisdom teeth.

Salivary glands: The salivary glands produce saliva; the fluid that keeps mucosal surfaces in the mouth and throat moist. There are many salivary glands; the major ones are in the floor of the mouth, and near the jawbone.

Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity. 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.

Pharynx. The pharynx is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and leads to the esophagus (the tube that goes to the stomach) and the trachea.

How common are head and neck cancers?
It is the eighth leading cause of cancer death worldwide in 2000. Mainly affects males, and the commonest head and neck cancer in Singapore is voice box cancer (~ 100 cases a year) and the second commonest is tongue cancer (~ 60 cases a year).