Signs and symptoms of head and neck cancers
The symptoms of a head and neck cancer depend on:
- where in the head and neck the cancer started
- if it has spread anywhere nearby, such as the lymph nodes in the neck.
This page covers the common signs and symptoms for all head and neck cancers. We have information about specific symptoms of the following types of head and neck cancers:
- mouth cancer
- tongue cancer
- oropharyngeal cancer
- nasopharyngeal cancer
- nasal and sinus cancer
- salivary gland cancer.
Any of the symptoms here can be caused by conditions other than cancer but it is important to have them checked by your GP or dentist, especially if they do not go away or are getting worse. Symptoms of head and neck cancer can include one or more of the following:
- discomfort or pain in the mouth
- a sore throat or earache that does not get better
- pain in the cheek
- pain behind the nose or in the upper teeth
- a headache that does not get better
- pain in any part of your face.
- difficulty or pain with chewing, swallowing or speaking
- loose teeth for no obvious reason, or dentures that do not fit well anymore
- changes in your speech
- numbness of the cheek, upper lip, upper teeth or side of the nose
- drooping on one side of the face or difficulty opening your mouth.
- a lump or ulcer, or both, in the mouth that does not heal
- a white (leukoplakia) or red (erythroplakia) patch in the mouth that does not go away
- changes in hearing
- unexplained weight loss
- bad breath (halitosis).
If a cancer in the mouth or throat spreads from where it started, the first place it usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the neck. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands that are part of the lymphatic system.
If cancer begins to grow in the lymph nodes, it might show up as a painless lump in the neck.
Enlarged lymph nodes are much more likely to be caused by an infection than cancer. But if you have a lump on your neck that does not go away after 2 to 3 weeks, a specialist doctor should look at it. Talk to your GP about it. They can refer you to a specialist.