Understanding diagnosis

Screening

Finding cancer early is important for all cancers. Cancer screening means having a test to look for cancer that you do not know you have. Screening means that cancer may be found before it has grown very big or spread to other parts of your body.

Unfortunately there are no formal screening tests or national screening programs for head and neck cancer.

What can you do to look for early signs of head and neck cancer?

The following signs and symptoms are common for many types of head and neck cancer. These are not always due to cancer, but if they last more than four weeks you should see doctor.

A lump in the neck or in front of the ear
An ulcer in the mouth
Pain in the ear
Change in your voice
Pain or difficulty swallowing
Swelling or loss of feeling in the face
If you smoke cigarettes or have other risk factors for oral cancer (mouth cancer), we recommend you have a check up with your dentist and your regular doctor every 6 months.

In Australia, two out of three people with fair skin will develop skin cancer before they are 70 years old. Some of these skin cancers will be in the head and neck region. If you are over 40 years old and have pale skin, it is a good idea to have your skin checked by a skin specialist (dermatologist) every 12 months, or more often if you have had a skin cancer already.

One cause of mouth or throat (oropharyngeal) cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV), the same virus that causes cervical cancer. Australia has a vaccination program for boys and girls to protect them from HPV. You can find more information about this here.

You know your own body better than anyone else. If you think that something isn’t right, or you notice any signs of head and neck cancer, speak with your regular doctor.