Head and neck cancer is a medical term to describe a number of different malignant tumors that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, and mouth.
Cancer begins when healthy cells change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumor. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body.
Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. If a cancer is only found in the squamous layer of cells (epithelium), it is called carcinoma in situ. If the cancer has grown beyond this cell layer and moved into the deeper tissue, then it is called invasive squamous cell carcinoma. If it cannot be identified where the cancer began, it is called a cancer of unknown primary.
If a head and neck cancer starts in the salivary glands, the tumor will be classified as an adenocarcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma, or mucoepidermoid carcinoma.
According to the part of the body where they develop, there are 5 major types of head and neck cancer:
- Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer
- Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer
- Nasopharyngeal cancer
- Oral and oropharyngeal cancer
- Salivary gland cancer
Besides, other types of cancer, such as brain tumors, esophageal cancer, eye cancer, parathyroid cancer, sarcoma, and thyroid cancer, may be located in the head and neck region. However, their diagnosis and treatment are much different from head and neck cancer.
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