What are the symptoms of head and neck cancer?

Symptoms of head and neck cancer include the following:
  • hoarseness (could be a sign of cancer of the vocal cords)
  • difficulty swallowing
  • lumps in the neck or anywhere on the tongue, in the mouth or on the face
  • white, red or rough patches on the tongue or anywhere inside the mouth
Any symptoms  lasting longer than two weeks should be investigated. Most cancers of the head and neck start in the squamous cells that line moist surfaces inside the head and neck, in the mouth, pharynx, larynx, sinus and nasal cavity and salivary glands.

Use of tobacco and alcohol and human papillomavirus, or HPV, are key risk factors, with HPV being the fastest growing. Head and neck cancers may be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or a combination.
HCA Virginia
Symptoms of head and neck cancer can include sore throat and trouble swallowing. In this video, James May IV, MD, a head and neck oncologist at Chippenham & Johnston-Willis Hospitals, describes other symptoms that might indicate cancer.
Penn Medicine
Oral, head and neck cancer refers to a variety of cancers that develop in the head and neck region, such as the oral cavity (mouth), the pharynx (throat), paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity, the larynx (voice box), thyroid and salivary glands, the skin of the face and neck, and the lymph nodes in the neck.
Common symptoms of oral, head and neck cancer include: red or white patch in the mouth that lasts more than two weeks, change in voice or hoarseness that lasts more than two weeks, sore throat that does not subside, pain or swelling in the mouth or neck that does not subside, a lump in the neck.
Later symptoms of oral, head and neck cancer include: ear pain, difficulty speaking or swallowing, difficulty breathing.
The symptoms of mouth or throat cancer can include:
  • sores that bleed easily or do not heal
  • a thick or hard spot or lump
  • a roughened or crusted area
  • numbness, pain or tenderness
  • a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down
Make sure to tell your dentist about any problems you have when chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw.
Hillel D. Ephros, DMD
Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
Some common signs (what you see) and symptoms (what you feel) of head and neck cancers include color and texture changes of the mouth lining tissue, persistent sores with bleeding or crusting, swellings or lumps of the face or neck, mouth or ear pain, numbness, voice changes, persistent cough or sore throat, and difficulty or pain when swallowing. Many of these are not specific symptoms, meaning that cancer is only one of a number of conditions that could make you feel these things. The most important point is that head and neck cancers often produce no symptoms at all, especially in their early stages when they are more easily and successfully treated. Early detection is most likely when you or your doctor sees the first signs of head and neck cancer before you have any symptoms.

Symptoms of several head and neck cancer sites include a lump or sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice.

Other symptoms may include the following:

Oral cavity. A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth; a swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable; and unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth.

Nasal cavity and sinuses. Sinuses that are blocked and do not clear, chronic sinus infections that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics, bleeding through the nose, frequent headaches, swelling or other trouble with the eyes, pain in the upper teeth, or problems with dentures.

Salivary glands. Swelling under the chin or around the jawbone; numbness or paralysis of the muscles in the face; or pain that does not go away in the face, chin, or neck.

Oropharynx and hypopharynx. Ear pain.

Nasopharynx. Trouble breathing or speaking, frequent headaches, pain or ringing in the ears, or trouble hearing.

Larynx. Pain when swallowing, or ear pain.

Metastatic squamous neck cancer. Pain in the neck or throat that does not go away.

These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other, less serious conditions. It is important to check with a doctor or dentist about any of these symptoms.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

Symptoms vary with head and neck cancer, primarily because there are different types of the disease. Some of the most common warning signs of head and neck cancer include:
  • a persistent and unexplained lump or sore in the mouth, nose, or neck
  • a persistent sore throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • changes in your voice, including hoarseness
If you develop these or other unexplained symptoms in your head or neck, talk to your doctor immediately.

The warning signs for head and neck cancer are:

  • a non-healing sore in the mouth or throat;
  • persistent throat pain, especially on just one side;
  • persistent ear pain without ear infection;
  • difficulty swallowing or speaking;
  • hoarseness;
  • persistent nosebleeds;
  • weight loss in combination with some of the above symptoms;
  • and persistent foul odor in mouth with some of the above symptoms.

Although the symptoms vary depending on the location of the head and neck cancer, one of the most common symptoms is a lump or sore, which may or may not be painful. Other possible symptoms include bleeding in the mouth or nose, headaches, numbness or muscle weakness in the face, bad breath, voice changes, and difficulty with swallowing or breathing. Weight loss may occur because of pain or difficulty with swallowing. All of these symptoms can be caused by other disorders, but symptoms that last for more that 2-3 weeks are more likely to be due to cancer.

Continue Learning about Head & Neck Cancers

Head & Neck Cancers

Cancer of the head and neck affects the moist tissues that line our organs and body cavities, such as the throat, voice box and mouth.Smoking tobacco products is the number one cause of most head and neck cancers. Dangerous byprod...

ucts in tobacco can damage our cells, which can then multiply out of control and cause cancer. If you smoke and drink alcohol excessively, you are at even greater risk of developing head or neck cancer, especially cancer of the throat, mouth or voice box. Other common sites for head and neck cancers are the sinuses, the nose and the salivary glands. This group of cancers represents less than 5% of cancers in the U.S., affecting less than 40,000 Americans each year. See your doctor if you feel any numbness in your face, have a lump in your neck, mouth or jaw, have difficulty swallowing, or develop hoarseness in your voice.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.