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Cancer in the upper aerodigestive tract


Head and neck cancer in the upper aerodigestive tract are malignant tumors that can develop between the oral cavity and hypopharynx, the lower part of the pharynx. Classically, head and neck cancer affects men over the age of 50, often those with a history of alcohol and tobacco use. The major factors that increase the risk of developing these cancers are, in fact, chronic intoxication with tobacco smoke and chronic alcohol intoxication. The combination of these two enormously increases the risk: it is said that their effects are synergistic. Among head and neck cancers, there are cancers found in the oral cavity that may affect the oral floor, gums, lips, palate, tonsils, vocal cords or sinuses.


Head and neck tumors are difficult to diagnose in localized stages, because few symptoms are visible at first. In most cases, the discovery of an enlarged lymph node coupled with a history of alcohol and tobacco use will often point to cancer. Other symptoms may also be suggestive of the presence of cancer:
- trouble with swallowing;
- disorders of speech or a change in voice;
- troubles breathing;
- pain in the mouth or throat;
- bleeding.
Most of the time, these signs are associated with other non-serious conditions.


The lack of symptoms in the early stages of disease often causes a delayed diagnosis. In the presence of the clinical signs mentioned above, a doctor will explore the oral cavity in search of an injury or a painful area. The lymph nodes are also inspected. A head and neck panendoscopy, that is to say, an examination of the upper aerodigestive tract with a camera allows a more precise study of these cavities and the taking of biopsies in the event of a suspicious area. If the analysis reveals a cancer, a set of tests to search for metastases, the invasion of other organs by cancer cells, will be realized.


The treatment of these cancers depends on the context and results of staging. If the head and neck cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes, the most common treatment is surgery to ablate the tumor. Radiation therapy is also frequently used, provided that any dental problems have been previously treated. Finally, chemotherapy is also possible, often to reduce the size of the tumor before its removal. Once the cancer treated, acts of reconstructive surgery are often necessary. In some cases, it is also necessary to remove the surrounding lymph nodes.


Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption is the best way to prevent head and neck cancer. Regular dental and oral monitoring is also recommended in order to analyze as early as possible a worrisome injury.

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