Cancer is a disease in which certain cells begin to divide too quickly and
without any order. Cancer can spread to tissues and organs near the place
where it started (called the primary site). Cancer cells can also spread
through the bloodstream and the lymph system to other parts of the body to form
new tumors. Cancer that started in one place, but has spread to another part
of the body is called metastatic cancer.
Squamous cells line the outside of many body organs, including the mouth, nose,
skin, throat, and lungs. Cancer can begin in the squamous cells and spread
(metastasize) from its original site to the lymph nodes in the neck or around
the collarbone. Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures that are found
throughout the body. They produce and store infection-fighting cells. When
the lymph nodes in the neck are found to contain squamous cell cancer, a doctor
will try to find out where the cancer started (the primary tumor). If the
doctor cannot find a primary tumor, the cancer is called a metastatic cancer
with unseen (occult) primary.
A doctor should be seen if there is a lump or pain in the neck or a sore throat that
doesn’t go away. If tissue that is not normal is found, the doctor will need
to cut out a small piece and look at it under the microscope to see if there
are any cancer cells. This is called a biopsy. If the biopsy shows that a
person has squamous cell cancer, the doctor will do many kinds of tests to see
whether a primary site can be found. If the primary site cannot be found, the
doctor will treat the cancer in the neck.
The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends on how many lymph nodes contain
cancer, where the cancer is found in the neck, whether or not a primary tumor
is found, and the patient’s general state of health.
© Copyright 1996 - 2013 H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute