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Diagnosing Head & Neck Cancer


Head and neck cancer refers to a group of diseases that most often begin in the mucus membranes of the nose, mouth, and throat. It makes up about three percent of all cancer cases in the U.S. 

At Dignity Health, our highly trained oncologists offer care for a range of head and neck cancers in the Bay Area: 

For quality care with humankindness, use our online search tool and Find a Doctor.

Symptoms of Head & Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancer symptoms begin early on, making it highly treatable. These include:

  • Difficulty or pain with speaking or swallowing
  • Ringing in your ears, trouble hearing, or ear pain
  • Frequent headaches or pain in your upper teeth
  • Nose bleeds or unusual bleeding in your mouth
  • Sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • White or red patches on your gums
  • Numbness or difficulty using your face muscles
  • Change in your voice or hoarseness that persists
  • Lump or sore that doesn’t heal
  • Swelling of your jaw, eyes, or under your chin
  • Blocked sinuses
  • Frequent sinus infections that don’t respond to treatment

These symptoms are also common with other conditions. Talk with your doctor for a diagnosis.

Causes of Head & Neck Cancer

Researchers know that certain factors increase the risk of developing head and neck cancer. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Tobacco use in any form — plays a role in 85 percent of cases
  • African American race
  • Frequent and heavy use of alcohol
  • Male gender
  • Age older than 40
  • Weakened immune system
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Prolonged sun exposure
  • Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
  • Marijuana use

You can take an active role in prevention by lowering your risk factors — mainly by not smoking.

Head & Neck Cancer Treatment at Dignity Health

Treatment depends on the type, location, and stage of the disease. Dignity Health doctors may use a combination of treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and targeted therapy.

Find world-class cancer care near you today:

Dignity Health hospitals in the Bay Area offer personal care and healing for head and neck cancers in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City.