If you think chewing tobacco or e-cigarettes are safe alternatives to traditional cigarettes, think again. While smoking regular cigarettes causes 200,000 deaths per year due to lung cancer, spit tobacco and smokeless cigarettes cause nearly 13,000 deaths from head and neck cancer each year. Needless to say, any type of tobacco in your body is a sentence for a dangerous outcome.
The good news is that head and neck cancers tend to produce early symptoms, so if you’ve been using these alternative smoking methods, it’s important to know warning signs to look for before it’s too late.
Who gets head and neck cancer?
Along with tobacco users, people who frequently drink alcohol and those who have the human papilloma virus (HPV) are at risk of contracting head and neck cancer. People who spend a lot of time in the sun are susceptible to skin cancer on their face.
What are warning signs of head and neck cancer?
Trouble swallowing. If you have a hard time swallowing almost every time you eat or drink, see a doctor right away. Cancer of the throat or esophagus can cause food to feel like it’s stuck or cause foods and liquids to come back up.
A lump in your neck. A painless lump in your neck that lasts two weeks or longer needs to be checked out promptly as it can be the first sign of cancer of the mouth, throat, voicebox (larynx), thyroid gland, or of certain lymphomas and blood cancers. Not all neck lumps are cancerous, but they do call for concern.
Voice changes. Has your voice sounded hoarse or gravelly for more than two weeks? Since cancers in the larynx often cause changes in the voice, you should be examined by a doctor.
Skin changes. Skin that has been exposed to the sun is particularly at risk for becoming cancerous. Basal cell cancer of the skin is common and often shows up on the forehead, face and ears, beginning as a small, pale patch that enlarges slowly. In more advanced cases, basal cell cancer produces a dimple and then an ulcer, and sometimes changes colors. Squamous cell cancer shows up on the lower lip and ear and looks similar to basal cell cancer. Malignant melanoma usually produces a blue-black or black discoloration of the skin, but is also seen in moles that have changed size, color, or begin to bleed.
Sores in the mouth. Painless sores or swelling in the mouth that don’t go away after a week need to be evaluated and possibly biopsied. When accompanied with lumps in the neck and especially any bleeding, sores in the mouth are a red flag for cancer.
Blood in phlegm or saliva. Since tumors in the nose, mouth, throat, or lungs can cause bleeding, this is a reason to see your doctor if it lasts for several days.
Ear pain. If your ear hurts every time you swallow for a week or more, it could be a side effect of tumor growth in the throat. If you also have trouble swallowing, are hoarse, or feel a lump in your neck, see a doctor immediately.
Who should I see if I have symptoms of head and neck cancer?
An otolaryngologist is a doctor specially trained in identifying and treating conditions of the nose and throat, including cancers. If you notice any of the above warning signs, call Sound Heath Services at (314) 332-1377 to make an appointment with a trusted otolaryngologist on our team.