Understanding diagnosis

Signs and symptoms

Head and neck cancer can cause different symptoms depending on:

  • where it is
  • what type it is
  • what stage it is at

Sometimes people do not have any signs or symptoms and sometimes the same symptoms can be caused by other things.

You should check with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

A neck lump
A lump or sore that does not heal
A red or white patch in the mouth
Swelling, bleeding, pain or numbness of the face or within the mouth
Trouble speaking
Hoarse voice
Difficulty chewing or swallowing
A sore throat that doesn’t get better after a week or two
Trouble breathing
Blood in your saliva or phlegm
Ear pain that doesn’t go away
A blocked ear that doesn’t clear
Jaw pain that doesn’t go away
Problems with dentures
Loose teeth
A blocked nose
Frequent nose bleeds
A bulging or watery eye
Problems seeing (for example,  double vision)
Unexplained weight loss

If you have signs of head and neck cancer, your doctor will need to explore these signs more. Your doctor may:

  • speak with you about the problem as well as other illnesses, medications, and whether you smoke or drink alcohol (medical history)

  • feel and look in your neck, mouth and throat for anything unusual (physical examination)

  • request that you have some tests (diagnostic tests)

  • refer you to a specialist for more tests.

There are many tests that can be used to diagnose head and neck cancer. Not everyone will need to have every test.