Head and Neck Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 05/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

People with head and neck cancer often experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with head and neck cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer.

  • Swelling or sore that does not heal; this is the most common symptom

  • Red or white patch in the mouth

  • Lump, bump, or mass in the head or neck area, with or without pain

  • Persistent sore throat

  • Foul mouth odor not explained by hygiene

  • Hoarseness or change in voice

  • Nasal obstruction or persistent nasal congestion

  • Frequent nose bleeds and/or unusual nasal discharge

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Double vision

  • Numbness or weakness of a body part in the head and neck region

  • Pain or difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue

  • Ear and/or jaw pain

  • Blood in the saliva or phlegm, which is mucus discharged in mouth from respiratory passages

  • Loosening of teeth

  • Dentures that no longer fit

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Fatigue

If you are concerned about one or more of the symptoms or signs on this list, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis, and it explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.