Millions of patients die from cancer each year, yet a cure for the disease still evades researchers. Cancer occurs when damaged cells divide and multiply at their own speed, forming tumours. This defect can start anywhere in the body, but once proliferation has been triggered tumours are likely to invade neighbouring tissue. Picking up the warning signs is critical to survival. According to Doctor Jiri Kubes, of Proton Therapy Centre Prague, one lesser-known sign may occur in the ears.
As with most forms of cancer, picking up the disease in the initial stages offers the best chances of survival.
This is particularly important for fast-spreading forms of cancer, which are best treated while they’re still contained in the tissue where they developed.
Neck cancer, for example, can begin anywhere in the body, as it metastasises through the blood or lymph system, to other parts of the body.
Doctor Kubes said: “The earlier we can get people diagnosed the better the outcome.
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“But despite it being the fastest-growing type of cancer in the world, there’s still a lack of awareness around head and neck tumours.”
In fact, rates of head and neck cancer are believed to be growing in part due to a higher prevalence of the human papillomavirus.
This causes cells in the back of the throat to turn abnormal, which is a key feature of cancer.
Because tumours of head and neck cancer often reside in the nose, neck or throat, it’s only natural to expect symptoms in these areas. Some lesser-known signs, however, may manifest elsewhere.
Doctor Kubes added: “There are certain key symptoms you need to look out for, some of them less well known.
“For example, persistently blocked ears – the type you might get after diving into a swimming pool – or persistent earache could be a sign there’s cancer in and around that area.
“Swelling in part of the neck, or some resistance when touching a part of the neck could also be an indicator.
“Sore gums, ulcers and pain in your teeth, white or red patches in the mouth are all tell-tale symptoms.”
“A sore throat that lasts more than two weeks, or if you have any voice change or hoarseness, should ring alarm bells.”
Fortunately, many cancers of the head and neck can be cured if picked up early.
Eliminating the cancer is the primary goal of treatment, and should be done without interfering with nearby nerves, organs and tissues.
Treatments for the disease typically include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, but a combination of treatments may be necessary.