head and neck cancer

HNC in Dictionary

According to abbreviationfinder, HNC stands for head and neck cancer. A head and neck cancer is a malignant disease, i.e. a malignant disease of the mouth, nose or throat. The typical symptoms are difficulty swallowing, hoarseness or a foreign body sensation, which occurs primarily in the case of a tumor in the oral cavity.

What is a head and neck cancer?

The first step in diagnosis consists of a thorough questioning of the symptoms and a physical examination. In many of those affected, a head and neck tumor is already visible in this way, in others an endoscopy with tissue removal is required.

A distinction is made between many different tumors that can develop in the head or neck area. It depends on which tissue the head and neck tumor first appears in.

Carcinoma initially develops on the mucosa, which is also the most common type of head and neck cancer. There are also lymphomas from the lymphatic tissue and sarcomas, which form in the connective tissue. The tumors can affect the entire mouth, throat, larynx, nose and paranasal sinuses.

According to statistics, a head and neck tumor occurs in around 11,000 people in Germany every year, with men being affected more often than women. A head and neck tumor usually does not appear until after the age of 60, but younger sufferers are becoming more common.


Head and neck cancer can have a variety of causes, but excessive use of tobacco and alcohol over many years is usually associated. If you also do not practice sufficient oral hygiene, the risk can be increased.

For example, throat cancer is significantly less common in non-smokers than in smokers. Chewing tobacco, on the other hand, increases the risk of a head and neck tumor in the oral mucosa. A tumor on the lip or tongue often affects pipe smokers. In addition, there is a connection with hereditary factors in this form of cancer, as with all other forms of cancer.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Depending on which tissue structure is affected by the cancer, a head and neck cancer can cause different symptoms. Head and neck tumors in the mouth area often lead to swelling, discoloration and ulcers in the oral mucosa. A characteristic sign of oral cavity cancer is an increasing foreign body sensation, often associated with burning and itching. As the growth grows, it can also reduce tongue mobility and cause difficulty swallowing.

With salivary gland tumors, the mucous membrane swells and there is severe pain. Throat cancer also causes difficulty swallowing. Possible accompanying symptoms of a tumor in the pharynx are hoarseness and problems with eating. A tumor in the larynx area can cause hoarseness and sore throat as well as an unpleasant itchy throat.

Many of those affected also feel a strong foreign body sensation and have to cough constantly. In addition, breathing difficulties occur. If a head and neck tumor has already affected the lymph nodes, further symptoms can occur. In addition to the metastases themselves, which show up as firm, little painful swellings, there is a general feeling of being unwell.

The symptoms and symptoms that a head and neck cancer can cause vary greatly. What the various forms have in common is that they make it difficult to eat and are prone to inflammation and ulcers due to their location. The tumor itself increases in size over time and forms metastases in various parts of the body.

Diagnosis & History

The first step in diagnosis consists of a thorough questioning of the symptoms and a physical examination. In many of those affected, a head and neck tumor is already visible in this way, in others an endoscopy with tissue removal is required.

The exact size of the tumor must then be determined, which is important for the subsequent treatment. In addition, it must be clarified whether the head and neck tumor has already spread metastases (secondary tumors). An imaging procedure is also necessary, for example using computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging.

The further course in patients with a head and neck tumor depends above all on when the diagnosis is made. The smaller the head and neck cancer is, the more likely it is to heal completely.


Head and neck cancer is a very serious condition. The patient’s quality of life is significantly reduced by this tumor and there are severe limitations in everyday life. As a rule, the patients suffer from swallowing difficulties and hoarseness. There is also a foreign body sensation in the throat.

As a result of these symptoms, patients often consciously consume less food and liquids, which usually leads to dehydration and deficiency symptoms or even underweight. There is also a sore throat and severe swelling in the head area. Those affected continue to feel exhausted and ill. The tumor can also spread to other areas of the body and also destroy other healthy tissue.

Head and neck tumors are usually treated with surgery or radiation therapy. However, this does not always lead to a positive course of the disease. In many cases, life expectancy is reduced and the patient dies. Furthermore, psychological treatment is often necessary. There are no further complications. The earlier the tumor is detected, the higher the probability of a complete recovery of the affected person.

When should you go to the doctor?

If you notice pain and swelling in the mouth or other signs of a serious condition, it is advisable to see a doctor. A head and neck tumor usually manifests itself through clear symptoms. This is how discoloration or ulcers develop in the oral cavity, which must be clarified. Any swallowing difficulties, prolonged hoarseness and a scratchy throat are also among the warning signs. People who notice one of these signs of illness should speak to their family doctor.

This can diagnose or rule out a head and neck tumor and initiate further treatment. People who have poor oral hygiene or who already suffer from oral ulcers are particularly susceptible to the development of a tumour. Therefore, patients with previous illnesses affecting the mouth, throat or lungs should see a doctor immediately if they experience the symptoms mentioned. If there is a head and neck tumor, a specialist must be consulted. Other contact points are the ENT doctor, the dentist or an internist. Children should be presented to a pediatrician or general practitioner if they have the symptoms mentioned.

Treatment & Therapy

The therapy for patients with a head and neck tumor depends in particular on the type of tumor and how far it has already grown. General health is also important. The treatment should not only fight the cancer, but also preserve the quality of life as much as possible.

If the head and neck tumor is still small, the treatment (if possible) should only consist of an operation. The location and stage of the tumor is important here. If the tumor has already spread, the lymph nodes in the neck are often removed as well. Various laser therapies for removing the tumor are now also available. Chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy can be performed after an operation. With these treatment methods, too, the various factors of the tumor are again decisive.

Chemotherapy alone is only suggested for distant metastases or new head and neck cancer. Another or supplementary form of therapy is immunotherapy, in which antibodies against the head and neck tumor are used. The antibodies block the binding sites for the growth factor on the malignant cells, which stimulates cell growth. The antibodies also ensure that radiation or chemotherapy works better and is therefore more successful.

Outlook & Forecast

There are no scientifically collected figures on how many people develop head and neck cancer. Experts estimate that 50 out of 100,000 inhabitants suffer from such a disease. At the time of diagnosis, most of those affected are in the second half of life. Men get sick much more often than women.

The chances of recovery depend heavily on the progress and extent of the disease. Age also plays a role, as does the question of how well a patient responds to treatment. If a tumor is detected in the early stages, the chances of recovery are comparatively best. Small tumors without metastases are considered to be more treatable.

The most common form of head and neck cancer is laryngeal cancer. It is conspicuous that it occurs almost exclusively in smokers. Regular nicotine consumption can therefore be regarded as a risk factor. If you continue to smoke after successful treatment, the likelihood of the disease coming back increases significantly. Some patients have to reckon with permanent limitations after therapy. This can lead to speech impediments. Respiratory function is sometimes impaired. Both mean that those affected can no longer practice their profession. Eating can also be difficult at times.


The best way to prevent head and neck cancer is to avoid at least the risk factors of smoking and frequent alcohol consumption. Regular oral hygiene is also important, and not just to prevent head and neck cancer. That quitting smoking is an effective method of prevention is shown by the fact that cancer of the larynx occurs very rarely in non-smokers. However, anyone who still consumes alcohol more often or is a smoker should have regular check-ups carried out by an ear, nose and throat doctor.


In most cases, direct follow-up measures for a head and neck tumor are very limited. First and foremost, the disease must be recognized at a very early stage so that it does not deteriorate further. Without treatment, this tumor usually leads to a significantly reduced life expectancy and thus to premature death of the affected person.

Therefore, the patient with a head and neck tumor should contact a doctor as soon as the first symptoms appear. As a rule, those affected by this disease are dependent on the help and support of their own family and friends and acquaintances. Intensive and loving conversations with one’s own family are often necessary in order to prevent psychological upsets or depression.

After the tumors have been removed, regular examinations and checks by a doctor are still necessary in order to identify and treat new tumors at an early stage. After chemotherapy, the person affected should definitely rest and protect their body. Efforts or stressful and physical activities should be avoided in order not to unnecessarily burden the body.

You can do that yourself

The options for self-help are relatively limited in the case of a head and neck tumor. They also depend heavily on the severity and exact location of the tumor.

The swelling in the neck and head can be relieved with the help of cold applications. In some cases, the swallowing difficulties can be reduced with the help of medication. If the affected person is prevented from taking food and liquids independently due to these symptoms, the help and care of the parents or relatives is very helpful. Good oral hygiene can also have a positive effect on these symptoms. Brushing your teeth frequently and using a mouthwash can prevent the disease in some cases. Furthermore, the affected person should refrain from consuming alcohol and cigarettes in order not to aggravate the symptoms.

Since cancer usually also leads to psychological problems, talking to your closest friends and acquaintances is often very helpful in order to avoid depression. Communicating with others affected can also have a positive effect on the course of the disease and is highly recommended.

head and neck cancer