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What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Neck?

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  • Written By: C. Stoliecki
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that originates in specific cells known as epithelial cells. Epithelial cells typically form the outermost layer of a body surface and are found in organs such as the skin, larynx, which refers to the organ that contains the vocal cords, pharynx, which refers to the entire throat, the oral cavity and cervix. Squamous cell carcinoma of the neck occurs when cancerous cells originate in the epithelial cells found on the organs of the neck, including the larynx, pharynx, oral cavity, thyroid and salivary glands.

Researchers have noted a strong link between tobacco and alcohol use and the occurrence of squamous cell carcinoma of the neck. When the epithelial cells that make up the surfaces of the neck organs are exposed to these two environmental influences, they are often damaged. Generally, the toxins in these two substances damage the genetic material in the cell. This damage can affect cell reproduction making it impossible for the epithelial cell to reproduce a healthy replica and increasing the likelihood that these cells begin to produce cancerous cells instead.

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Other possible risk factors for developing squamous cell carcinoma of the neck include exposure to environmental irritants such as cement dust, paint fumes and wood dust. There is also an established connection between the presence of specific forms of human papilloma virus (HPV) known as type 16 and type 18 and the occurrence of neck cancer. In many cases, cancerous tumors in the neck that occur in the presence of the HPV have a better prognosis than those without, although the precise reasons for this are not clear.

Despite the strong relationship between certain environmental factors and squamous cell carcinoma of the neck, there are hereditary factors that play an important role in the likelihood of developing this type of cancer. Research has indicated that the genetic makeup of an individual increases the risk of neck cancer by controlling the way in which the body of each individual is programmed to deal with exposure to dangerous environmental triggers such as alcohol and tobacco. It is therefore most likely that a combination of genetic variability and exposure to environmental factors that puts a person at risk for squamous cell carcinoma of the neck.

There are many different treatment options available. The most cutting edge treatments are those that are geared towards altering the genes. Other options include radiotherapy, where radiation is aimed at killing the cancer cells that make up a tumor, chemotherapy, where drugs are used to kill the cancer, and surgery to remove the cancer from the neck.

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