Head and Neck/Oral Cancers: Symptoms

Often patients with head, neck and oral cancer have no symptoms. As a tumor grows, however, it may lead to any one of these common complaints:

• A lump or sore in the mouth or neck, that doesn’t heal
• Sore throat that doesn’t getter better
• Difficulty or pain with swallowing
• Change in the voice or general hoarseness
• Blood in the saliva or coming from the nose
• Ear pain or hearing loss
• Nasal stuffiness that doesn’t clear up

Symptoms may also vary according to the location of the cancer. A more site specific list can be found below:

Nasal Cancer

The nasal cavity is the main airway just behind the nose. Symptoms of this type of cancer include:

  • Nasal obstruction
  • Persistent nasal congestion and stuffiness
  • Chronic sinus infections that fail to respond to antibiotic treatment
  • Frequent headaches or sinus pain
  • Pain or swelling in the face, eyes, or ears
  • Persistent tearing
  • Bulging eyes or vision loss
  • Altered sense of smell
  • Tooth pain or numbness
  • Loosening of teeth
  • A lump on the face, nose, or inside the mouth
  • Constant runny nose
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • A lump or sore inside the nose that fails to heal
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A lump in the neck

Oral Cancer

Most oral cancers begin in the tongue and in the floor of the mouth. Symptoms of this type of cancer include:

  • White or red patches in the mouth
  • A sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal
  • Bleeding in the mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Problems or pain with swallowing
  • A lump in the neck
  • Earache

Salivary Glands

The salivary glands make saliva that moistens food and aids in chewing and digestion. Saliva also cleans the mouth and contains antibodies that destroy germs. Symptoms of salivary cancer include

• A lump in the ear, cheek, jaw, lip, or inside the mouth
• Fluid in the ear
• Trouble swallowing or opening the mouth
• Numbness, weakness, or pain in the face

Throat Cancer

Throat cancer originates in the cells of the pharynx. This section of the alimentary canal extends from the mouth and nasal cavities to the larynx of voice box, located in the upper portion of the neck. Symptoms of throat cancer may include

  • Trouble breathing or speaking
  • Frequent headaches
  • Pain or ringing in the ears
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • Treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck that produces hormones.

As this type of cancer grows, the patient may experience any of the following

  • A lump in the neck
  • Changes to the voice, increasing hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in the neck and throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck