If you have any symptoms of head and neck cancer, they need to be checked by your doctor.

What are head and neck cancers?

Head and neck cancer is a general term for many cancers that start in the tissue or lymph nodes in the head and neck. 

This includes:

  • mouth cancer (oral cancer)
  • nose (nasal) or paranasal sinus cancer
  • salivary gland (parotid gland) cancer
  • throat (oropharyngeal) cancer
  • voice box (laryngeal) cancer

Although these cancers are different, they are treated similarly, so are grouped together.

Cancer is a disease of the body's cells. It starts in our genes. Our bodies are constantly making new cells, a process controlled by certain genes. Cancers are caused by damage to these genes. As the damaged cells replicate a lump or tumour is formed. 

Tumours can be:

  • Benign - not cancerous. These do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Malignant - cancerous


Head and neck cancers symptoms

The symptoms will depend on where the cancer is, but signs and symptoms may include:

  • a lump in your neck
  • a change in your voice
  • a growth in your mouth
  • difficulties swallowing
  • changes in your skin

Having these symptoms does not mean you have cancer, but it is important to get any changes checked by your doctor.

Tips for talking to your doctor

  • make a list of what you are feeling and how often it happens, including as much detail as possible
  • think about your family/whānau history of cancer and tell your doctor
  • go back to your doctor if you don't feel better, even if tests show you don't have a problem - you can ask for a second opinion if you want one 
  • take a family/whānau member or friend with you to the appointment for support
Need someone to talk to?
8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday
0800 226 237 Information nurse

We know that going through cancer is tough and can raise many questions. You are not alone.

We have health professionals to answer your questions and provide the support you need. Get in touch

Last updated: December 22, 2022