Signs and symptoms of head and neck cancers

The symptoms may be different depending on where in the head and neck the cancer started.

About the signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer

The symptoms of a head and neck cancer depend on:

  • where in the head and neck the cancer started
  • if it has spread anywhere nearby, such as the lymph nodes in the neck.

This page covers the common signs and symptoms for all head and neck cancers. We have information about specific symptoms of the following types of head and neck cancers:

Any of the symptoms here can be caused by conditions other than cancer but it is important to have them checked by your GP or dentist, especially if they do not go away or are getting worse. Symptoms of head and neck cancer can include one or more of the following:


  • discomfort or pain in the mouth
  • a sore throat or earache that does not get better
  • pain in the cheek
  • pain behind the nose or in the upper teeth
  • a headache that does not get better
  • pain in any part of your face.


  • in front of or behind the ear, or under the jawbone
  • in the upper neck caused by an enlarged lymph node (gland)
  • in the cheek
  • around the eyes.

Breathing problems

  • a blocked nose that does not clear
  • breathing more loudly than usual.


  • bleeding in the mouth
  • nosebleeds.

Changes to eating and speaking

  • difficulty or pain with chewing, swallowing or speaking
  • loose teeth for no obvious reason, or dentures that do not fit well anymore
  • changes in your speech
  • numbness of the cheek, upper lip, upper teeth or side of the nose
  • drooping on one side of the face or difficulty opening your mouth.

Other symptoms

  • a lump or ulcer, or both, in the mouth that does not heal
  • a white (leukoplakia) or red (erythroplakia) patch in the mouth that does not go away
  • changes in hearing
  • unexplained weight loss
  • bad breath (halitosis).

Lumps in the neck

If a cancer in the mouth or throat spreads from where it started, the first place it usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the neck. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands that are part of the lymphatic system.

If cancer begins to grow in the lymph nodes, it might show up as a painless lump in the neck.

Enlarged lymph nodes are much more likely to be caused by an infection than cancer. But if you have a lump on your neck that does not go away after 2 to 3 weeks, a specialist doctor should look at it. Talk to your GP about it. They can refer you to a specialist.

We understand that showing any symptoms of what could be cancer is worrying. The most important thing is to speak to your GP as soon as possible. We're also here if you need someone to talk to. You can: