Head and Neck Cancer (cont.)
In this Article
What is cancer?
Cancer is a group of many related diseases that begin in cells, the body's basic unit of life. All of the bodies tissues and organs are composed of cells of various types. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells in an orderly way. They perform their functions for a while, and then they die. Sometimes, however, cells do not die. Instead, they continue to divide and create new cells that the body does not need. The extra cells form a mass of tissue, called a growth or tumor. There are two types of tumors: benign and malignant. Benign tumors are not cancer. They do not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors are cancer. Their growth invades normal structures near the tumor and spreads to other parts of the body. Metastasis is the spread of cancer beyond one location in the body.
What kinds of cancers are considered cancers of the head and neck?
Most head and neck cancers begin in the cells that line the mucosal surfaces in the head and neck area, e.g., mouth, nose, and throat. Mucosal surfaces are moist tissues lining hollow organs and cavities of the body open to the environment. Normal mucosal cells look like scales (squamous) under the microscope, so head and neck cancers are often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas. Some head and neck cancers begin in other types of cells. For example, cancers that begin in gland cells such as the spit or salivary glands are called adenocarcinomas.
Cancers of the head and neck are further identified by the area in which they begin:
Cancers of the brain, eye, and thyroid gland as well as those of the scalp, skin, muscles, and bones of the head and neck are not usually grouped with cancers of the head and neck.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2014
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