Head & Neck Cancer Symptoms

Head and neck cancers can cause many different symptoms. These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions. It is important to check with a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A sore in the mouth that does not heal, bleeds easily or both
  • A sore throat, hoarse voice or change in the normal voice
  • Difficulty swallowing, moving the jaw or chewing normally
  • A lump or swelling in the neck
  • Frequent nosebleeds, a stuffy nose or sinus infections that do not get better with treatment
  • Loose teeth or dentures that no longer fit
  • Skin changes, such as a sore or a mole that changes shape and color

Symptoms that may affect specific areas of the head and neck include:

Oral cavity

  • A white or red patch on the gums, the tongue, or the lining of the mouth
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • Unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth


  • Trouble breathing or speaking
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Pain in the neck or the throat that does not go away
  • Frequent headaches, pain, or ringing in the ears
  • Trouble hearing


  • Pain when swallowing
  • Ear pain

Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity

  • Sinuses that are blocked and do not clear
  • Chronic sinus infections that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics
  • Bleeding through the nose
  • Frequent headaches, swelling or other trouble with the eyes
  • Pain in the upper teeth or problems with dentures

Salivary glands

  • Swelling under the chin or around the jawbone
  • Numbness or paralysis of the muscles in the face
  • Pain in the face, the chin, or the neck that does not go away

Content adapted from the National Cancer Institute.

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