Signs and Symptoms of Head & Neck Cancer

Many of the symptoms of head and neck cancer mimic other common problems such as tonsillitis, ear infections and strep throat. Most of these benign processes run a short course of a few weeks and subside or improve with treatment such as antibiotics. However, if you have any of the following symptoms and they persist despite treatment, schedule an evaluation with the Head and Neck Cancer care team at Virginia Mason Hospital & Seattle Medical Center.

  1. Hoarseness that lasts more than two - three weeks
  2. Difficulty breathing
  3. Chronic cough
  4. Persistent sore throat
  5. Difficulty swallowing or pain with swallowing
  6. Persistent ear pain
  7. Unexpected weight loss
  8. A lump or mass in the neck
  9. Mass or ulcer in the mouth
  10. Facial numbness or pain or weakness of facial movement
  11. Dentures which no longer fit the architecture of jaw
  12. Coughing or spitting up blood
  13. Loosening teeth

Basic Head and Neck Exam:

  1. Look in the mirror at your face for visible sores that have not healed or for swelling of the face.
  2. In a well-lighted area, check your mouth for unusual areas such as velvety red patches, white patches, swelling or hardened areas. Look and feel:
    • Your upper gums
    • Your lower gums
    • The inside walls of your cheeks
    • The top and side of your tongue extended out
    • Under the tongue
    • The roof your mouth
    • The back of your mouth
    • The back of your tongue
    • The glands at the top of your neck/throat area. They should be equal in size, soft and movable.

Related Links

Diagnosing Head and Neck Cancer
Virginia Mason Head and Neck Cancer Care Team