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What is mouth, head and neck cancer?
Mouth, head and neck cancer describes different cancers that happen in the organs and tissues of the mouth, head or neck.
Cancer starts when cells grow in an abnormal way. As they grow, the cancer cells can form a tumour, which can affect how the organ or tissue normally works.
Where can mouth, head and neck cancer happen?
- Mouth (oral) cancers: Lips, tongue, gums, cheeks, roof of your mouth (the hard palate) or the floor of your mouth (under your tongue).
- Oropharyngeal cancers: The soft part of the roof of your mouth, the back and side walls of your throat and the base of your tongue.
- Cancer of the nose: Nasopharynx, nostrils or the lining of your nose, the bones around your face or in your sinuses. The nasopharynx is the area where your throat joins your nose.
- Cancer of the ear: This is rare.
- Cancer of the salivary glands: This is rare. Lumps in the salivary gland are common and usually harmless, but get any lumps checked out.
- Cancer of the eye: This is very rare.
- Cancer of the larynx: A tube in your throat, also called the voicebox.
- Cancer of the thyroid: The gland in the front of your neck above your voice box.
Over 1,400 people are diagnosed with these cancers every year in Ireland.
The UK charity CRUK has information on rarer types of head and neck cancers. See our rare cancer page for more.
Describing mouth, head and neck cancers
The different mouth, head and neck cancers are named after the type of cell where the cancer first started to grow. For example:
Squamous cell cancers (carcinomas)
Cancers that affect the cells lining your mouth, nose, throat, tongue or ear. Most head and neck cancers are of this type.
Cancers that start in lymphatic system cells and travel to areas of your head and neck.
Cancers that grow in muscle, cartilage and blood vessels around your head and neck.
Cancers that grow in the pigment cells that give colour to your skin and eyes. They can also start in the cells that line your mouth.
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