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Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck

Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck occurs in the outermost surface of the skin or certain tissues within the head and neck region including the throat, mouth, sinuses and nose. Squamous cell carcinoma makes up about 90 percent of all head and neck cancers.

There are three main types:

  • HPV associated squamous cell carcinoma without smoking as a factor
  • HPV associated squamous cell carcinoma with smoking as a factor
  • Non-HPV associated squamous cell carcinoma without smoking as a factor

Squamous cell carcinoma can occur in various regions of the head and neck, including:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the throat (oropharyngeal)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth (oral cavity)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the voice box (laryngeal)
  • Nasopharyngeal (behind the nose) squamous cell carcinoma
  • Hypopharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (cancer that develops above the voice box)

Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck

Common symptoms for squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck include:

  • A persistent sore throat 
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Voice changes
  • Earache
  • A lump in the throat or mouth
  • A mass or lump in the neck

For HPV positive squamous cell carcinoma, individuals will have tonsils that look small, but their lymph nodes will be enlarged. They may have a lump or mass in the neck that is rarely painful.

Those with non-HPV squamous cell carcinoma may experience the opposite. The most common symptom is pain. This could be pain in the throat, mouth or ear, pain swallowing or hoarseness.