There are so many reasons why you may experience neck pain. Some may complain about it when they strained their muscles from performing exercise activities, poor posture, sudden movements. Some associate it with infections of the throat or mouth since there are swollen lymph nodes located at the neck. But there can also be a time that when a patient complains of neck pain, cancer is the cause. How can one differentiate simple neck pain due to muscular issues from neck pain cancer causes?
Head and neck cancer facts
Before we distinguish the neck pain cancer causes a patient to feel, it is important that we all know facts about neck and head cancers.
Some cancers located on the neck are not necessarily grouped as part of the head and neck cancers. For instance, cancers that attack the brain, skin, thyroid, or bones near the head and neck are different from cancers of the mouth, salivary glands, nasal cavity, larynx, and sinuses. The latter group is the once considered as head and neck cancers.
The most common culprits of head and neck cancers are smoking and increased alcohol intake. Some causes may also be taken into account, like exposure to radiation, human papillomavirus (HPV), or Epstein-Barr virus, or airborne asbestos contact, etc.
Men are more likely to get head and neck cancers than women. According to research and surveys, men are twice more likely to have a type of head and neck pain cancer than women.
Older men ages 50 years and above are said to be more prone to developing neck pain cancer. Younger people may be at risk as well, but there is more patient declaration that was gathered around the world that denotes the older population suffering from this type of cancer.
Neck pain and cancer connection
As mentioned earlier, there are so many reasons why a person experiences neck pain. However, if you have a family history of cancer, particularly the ones that are grouped as one of the head and neck cancers, you have nothing to lose if you consult your primary care doctor to have it checked. Though most neck pain events subside gradually, whether on its own or through the help of therapy or medication, you should visit and inform your doctor if the neck pain you are feeling becomes severe as time passes with or without treatment, spreads down the lower extremities, or is accompanied by more symptoms like headache, numbness, tingling sensation on extremities and neck, weakness, and difficulty breathing.
Neck pain cancer and other symptoms of head and neck cancer
Though the area of discomfort is almost the same, there are different complaints mentioned depending on the type of cancer and its staging. For instance, neck pain cancer causes may be located near the mouth, ear, cheek, nose, or a part of your face or head.
Aside from neck pain cancer causes, swelling can also be a common complaint mentioned by neck cancer patients. Inflammation behind or in front of the neck, cheek, or inside due to cancers affecting the lymph nodes around the neck can be common issues. Here are some more discomforts cancer patients complain if their neck is affected:
- Breathing problems
- Eating and speaking difficulties
- Lump or ulcers
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bad breath
Can neck pain cancer causes be accurate in diagnosing neck cancer?
There is no better way to diagnose cancer than to do a biopsy. If you present yourself to the doctor with a neck pain complaint, your doctor will do a comprehensive examination first. To find the cause of the signs or symptoms of a problem in the head and neck area, a doctor needs to evaluate your medical and family history, perform a complete physical examination, and order several diagnostic tests. The exams and tests may vary depending on the symptoms you have a complaint about. A biopsy or examination of a tissue sample under a microscope is always necessary to confirm a diagnosis of cancer.
If the tests come back as positive for cancer, the doctor will want to learn the stage (or extent) of the disease. Staging is a complex yet vigilant endeavor of the doctor or oncologist to find out whether the specific type of cancer has spread, and if so, to which parts of the body were affected. Cancer staging may involve an examination under anesthesia (in an operating room), x-rays and other imaging procedures, and laboratory tests. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan treatment.
How do you treat neck cancer?
The treatment plan given by the doctor depends on the type of head or neck cancer you have as well as the stage of the cancer when it was detected. The location of the cancer, as well as the age and overall health of the patient are also considered when planning the treatment approach that would eradicate the cancer cells from the body. An experienced oncologist may recommend one or more (or all) of the following procedures depending on how aggressive the cancer is and how healthy you are.
- Surgical removal of the tumor, the organ where the neck cancer originated, and the lymph nodes affected by the cancer
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
What are the side effects of the treatment regimens for neck cancer?
The neck pain cancer causes may be one of the main complaints patients also complain about after a therapy or treatment method. Patients experience problems with eating, chewing, and swallowing food. They may complain of speech difficulty, and swelling around the neck and face.
Most patients who received radiation therapy also commonly complain of soreness along the throat and mouth. Changes in their speech, taste, and skin elasticity are also mentioned quite often. What they are instructed to do is to report any of these discomforts to their oncologists and nurses so these health professionals can give them health instructions to make the side effects tolerable and less offensive.