Early detection is vital in treating tumors and cancers of the head and neck.

Every year, more than 55,000 people in the U.S. will develop head and neck cancer. An estimated 13,000 of these Americans will die from cancer of the head and neck. However, most of these cancers are preventable.

Led by Dr. Andrew Nemechek, a board-certified surgeon specializing in Otolaryngology, The Head and Neck Surgical Specialty Group is an interdisciplinary practice at Swedish Medical Center dedicated to diagnosing and treating tumors and cancers related to the head and neck.

At The Head and Neck Surgical Specialty Group, patients receive personalized care, which often involves targeted therapies tailored to the individual.

Additionally, The Head and Neck Surgical Specialty Group partners with the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute to provide the best treatment options available to patients.

Dr. Nemechek serves as medical director for the head and neck tumor program at the Head and Neck Cancer Care Center, which is part of Sarah Cannon.

Symptoms of otolaryngological tumors and cancers

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, cancers of the head and neck can be cured if detected early. Many of these cancers produce early symptoms.

For cancer patients, recognizing these warning signs can save your life.

Symptoms of head and neck cancers include:

A lump in the neck

Typically, cancers that first present in the head or neck spread to the lymph nodes before spreading to other parts of the body.

A lump (or lumps) in the neck can be the first sign of cancers in the mouth, throat, larynx, thyroid gland or salivary glands.

See a doctor as soon as possible if a lump in the neck appears for two weeks or more.

Voice changes 

The majority of cancers in a person’s voice box cause a change in their voice.

Most voice changes are not caused by cancer, but if someone is hoarse or voice changes persist for more than two weeks, they need to see a doctor.

A growth in the mouth

A sore mouth or swelling in the tongue could be a sign of cancer.

These sores might be painless but could still indicate a tumor or cancer. If a person has an ulcer or swelling in the mouth or tongue, along with lumps in the neck that persist for more than two weeks, it’s important to consult a physician.

A doctor will determine if a biopsy performed by an ENT specialist is needed.


While bleeding in the mouth is usually caused by something other than cancer, in some cases, bleeding can be caused by tumors in the nose, mouth, throat or lungs.

Difficulty swallowing

Cancers that begin in the throat or esophagus can make it difficult to swallow. If a person has a problem swallowing every time they try to eat, they need to see a doctor.

Changes in the skin

Basal cell skin cancer is the most common type of head and neck cancer. However, this type of cancer is rarely serious if diagnosed and treated early on.

Basal cell cancers typically appear on skin that is often exposed to the sun, such as the forehead, face and ears. This type of cancer usually starts as a small, pale patch on the skin that enlarges slowly.

There are other kinds of cancer that can occur on the head and neck, such as squamous cell cancer and malignant melanoma. Moles on the neck and head could also be a sign of a tumor or cancer.

Look out for moles that change size, change color or start to bleed, which may indicate cancer.

Earache that does not go away

Persistent earache can be a sign of tumor growth or an infection in the throat. Visit an ENT specialist if a persistent earache is accompanied by painful swallowing, hoarseness, or a lump in the neck.

For more information on symptoms of head and neck tumors and cancers, visit the website for the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Early detection for head and neck cancers is crucial

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of deaths that are the result of a head or neck cancer.

Tobacco use doesn’t just include smoking. Smokeless or spit tobacco can also cause diseases and cancer of the mouth.

Additionally, e-cigarettes and vaping products may also pose health risks and should not be viewed as a “safe” alternative to smoking. Along with tobacco, alcohol is the most common cause of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box and tongue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 70 percent of cancers of the tonsils, tongue and back of the mouth are linked to HPV. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S.

The CDC states that the HPV vaccine does protect against the types of HPV that can cause oropharyngeal cancers, so it may also prevent these cancers.

If detected early, some of these head and neck cancers can be cured successfully with few side effects.

Don’t wait until symptoms get worse — talk to your doctor as soon as possible at the first sign of these head and neck cancers.

The Head and Neck Surgical Specialty Group is here to help patients get the treatment they need and aid in improving your overall health.

Call Us: (303) 788-9200