Locations of Head and Neck Cancers

As a kind of cancer, lymphoma attacks the lymphocytes and lymph nodes that are part of the immune system. Head and neck lymphoma results when those nodes affected are in the neck. The following is a general description of the unique characteristics of this disease.

Cancers of the head or neck can include the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, throat, salivary glands, larynx, or lymph nodes in the neck. As this list shows, most of these occur in the mucosal membranes, the moist tissues that line most of the hollow organs of the body like the mouth, nose, and throat. Lymphoma, on the other hand, occurs within the lymphatic system, and involves either B- or T-lymphocytes.

Note: Cancers of the brain, eyes, thyroid, scalp, skin, muscles, or bones of the head or neck are NOT typically considered head and neck cancers.

Hodgkin's vs. Non-Hodgkin's

The two major classifications of lymphoma are Hodgkin's disease or Hodgkin's lymphoma (HL) and Non-hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Both result in similar symptoms and are, for the most part, treated in the same way, but differ in the types of abnormal cells that are produced and also vary in the ways they respond to treatment.

Symptoms of Lymphoma

The primary sign of lymphoma in the head and neck region is the development of painlessly enlarged lymph nodes along the side of the neck. Additional symptoms can include nausea, unexplained weight loss, headaches, and others.

Non-lymphatic cancers of the head and neck typically present with more dramatic symptoms, including bleeding from the gums or the nose, swelling in the eyes, blocked nasal passages, and numbness or paralysis in the face. These can result from less serious conditions, but cancer should only be ruled out by a professional.

Causes

While some cancers of the head and neck have been linked to unhealthy behaviors like tobacco and alcohol use, or exposure to radiation, toxins, or too much sun, there is no agreed-upon external cause for head and neck lymphoma or any lymphoma for that matter. There is some evidence linking it to certain viruses, but those findings are still controversial.

Treatment

Lymphoma in the head and neck area is generally one of the more treatable cancers. Options include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. The location of the cancerous growths will dictate which option is best. Side effects of treatment can variously include loss of appetite, hair loss, susceptibility to infection, and skin irritation.

Prognosis

Survival rates are highly dependent on what type of cancer it is, where it is located, and how far it has spread beyond the initial nodal involvement, if at all. As stated above, lymphoma remains one of the more responsive cancers, and it is a good sign if the cancer is confined to the head and neck region.

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