If you’re concerned you may have head and neck cancer, you want answers quickly. At Central Maine Healthcare, we understand not knowing can be the most difficult experience. That’s why we’re focused on providing the expert medical attention you need to get a diagnosis as quickly and accurately as possible.
Screening for Head and Neck Cancer
A screening test is developed to help your doctor see if you have cancer before you have any symptoms. Early detection is an important part of treatment and recovery. Unfortunately, for head and neck cancer, there is no routine screening test. The good news is that many pre-cancers and cancers in these areas can be found early (when they’re small) during routine exams by a doctor, dentist, dental hygienist, or by self-exam.
Especially if you smoke and regularly consume alcohol, you should do a self-exam once per month to check for any changes inside your mouth. If you notice any lumps, white patches, or sores, see your doctor.
At your regular dental check- up, your dentist may use special dyes and/or lights to look for abnormal areas, especially if you are at higher risk for head and neck cancer. If anything looks abnormal, another test will help your dentist decide if these areas might be cancer. He may take a biopsy, which is the process of removing a small bit of the suspicious tissue for further testing.
It’s very important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer, especially if you are at higher risk for the disease:
- Swelling or a sore that does not heal
- Pain in the mouth that doesn’t go away
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
- Lump, bump, or mass in the head or neck area, with or without pain
- Bad breath that’s not explained by hygiene
- Hoarseness or change in voice
- Pain or difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue
- A lump or thickening in the cheek
- Jaw pain
- Weight loss
Diagnosis of Head and Neck Cancer
During your check-up, your doctor will look inside your mouth, nose and throat, and check for lumps in your neck. That’s especially important if you use tobacco or have in the past, or drink regularly.
If your physician finds anything suspicious, you may need additional tests. Common options include:
- Biopsy: A small piece of tissue is removed and checked for cancer cells.
- Panendoscopy: A complete exam done in the operating room under anesthesia. The surgeon looks inside your nose, mouth and throat through thin tubes called scopes and may perform biopsies of abnormal tissue.
- CT scan: A special kind of X-ray that takes detailed pictures to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, lungs or other organs.
- MRI scan: MRIs use radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays to take detailed pictures. MRIs can be used to learn more about the size of the cancer and look for other tumors.
- Barium swallow: X-rays are taken while you swallow a liquid with barium in it. Barium coats the inside surface of the throat and helps get a good picture to see how you swallow.
- Chest X-rays: Used to see if the cancer has spread to the lungs.
- PET scan: You are given a special type of sugar that can be seen inside your body with a special camera. If there is cancer, this sugar shows up as “hot spots” where the cancer is found.
If cancer is detected, know that you have Central Maine Healthcare’s most experienced care team in your corner. These specialists will discuss all cancer treatment options with you and create a personalized plan. And you’ll have your own nurse navigator to guide and support you throughout the journey.
Find a Head and Neck Cancer Specialist Near You
Central Maine Medical Center