ENT Cancer

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) cancer—also referred to as head and neck cancer—describes a malignancy that develops in an area of the head or throat, excluding the brain and eyes. ENT cancers can start:

  • In the sinuses
  • Inside or behind the nose
  • In the mouth, tongue or gums
  • In the voice box (larynx)
  • In the throat (pharynx)
  • In the salivary glands
  • At the base of the skull

ENT Cancer Causes

Tobacco use is a major cause of ENT cancer. All forms of tobacco—including cigarettes, pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco—are strongly linked to certain head and neck cancers. Drinking alcohol is also associated with a greater likelihood of developing oral, throat and voice box cancers.

Additional risk factors for ENT cancer include:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Frequent ultraviolet (UV) light exposure
  • Workplace exposure to formaldehyde, nickel, asbestos, wood dust and other chemicals
  • Radiation treatment to the head and neck area
  • Male gender
  • Older age

Symptoms of ENT Cancer

The symptoms of ENT cancer can vary significantly depending on the specific location of the cancer. In general, ENT cancers may cause:

  • A sore on the tongue or mouth that doesn’t heal
  • White or red patches on the gums, tongue or inside the mouth
  • Voice hoarseness
  • Frequent headaches
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Frequent sinus infections that don’t respond to treatment
  • A lingering sore throat
  • Persistent ear pain
  • Pain in the upper row of teeth
  • Facial swelling
  • Bloody saliva or bleeding from the nose or mouth

ENT Cancer Diagnosis

Some ENT cancers can be quickly spotted by a medical professional during an exam of the mouth, tongue and nose. In other cases, imaging technologies such as a CT scan, PET scan or MRI may be used to view pictures of the inside of the head and neck. An endoscopy—a painless, in-office procedure—may also be performed to evaluate the nasal cavity, throat or voice box.

Treatments for ENT Cancer

Each patient’s ideal course of ENT cancer treatment will depend on the location and extent of the cancer. At Tampa General Hospital, many treatment plans include a combination of surgery—such as skull-based surgery and microvascular flap reconstruction procedures—to remove as much cancerous tissue as safely possible, along with radiation therapy to shrink tumors and chemotherapy to attack cancer cells throughout the body.