Head and Neck Self-examination (HNSE) for Filipinos
Reynaldo O. Joson, M.D.
July 17, 2014
Definition of Terms
“Head and neck” refers to regions in the human body, the head and the neck. The head is the upper most region of the human body when the person in a standing position. The neck is just below the head and connects the head to the chest or thorax. See picture below.
On the surface, a horizontal imaginary plane just below the jaw can be designated as the boundary between the head and the neck regions. So, all parts of the human body above this imaginary plane belong to the head region and those below, to the neck region.
Within the head and neck regions are organs and specialized tissues.
The key organs and specialized tissues within the head region consist of the following:
- Scalp and hair
- Facial skin and soft tissue
- Facial bones
- Upper throat (nasopharynx)
- Throat (oropharynx)
- Upper jaw
- Lower jaw
- Lymph nodes
- Blood vessels
The key organs and specialized tissues within the neck region consist of the following:
- Neck skin and soft tissues
- Lymph nodes
- Thyroid gland
- Parathyroid glands
- Trachea (or windpipe)
- Lower throat (hypopharynx)
- Esophagus (neck part)
- Blood vessels
The head and neck organs and specialized tissues can be affected by any kind of disorders.
The following are the more common disorders affecting the head and neck organs and specialized tissues:
- Masses – cancers and non-cancers
- Inflammation and infection
- Endocrine and metabolic
- Congenital anomalies
- Nutritional diseases
Importance and Benefits of Head and Neck Self-examination (HNSE) for Filipinos
The single most important benefit of self- examination is detection of diseases early enough. Self-examination of the head and neck facilitates early detection of any diseases that may affect these parts of a person’s body. In particular, it facilitates early detection of life- threatening diseases such as cancers and severe infection.
With their superficial location, head and neck, as a group, can easily be subjected to a self-examination by any person and all human beings.
A head and neck self- examination is easy to do. It takes less than a minute to do it. It costs nothing.
For all the above mentioned reasons, all Filipinos should learn and develop a habit of doing self-examination of their head and neck throughout their lifetime – a simple and cost-nothing procedure which can facilitate early detection of diseases in these parts of the body which in turn is associated with a lot of health benefits such as higher chance of successful treatment and prevention of disfigurement and premature death.
What needs to be done next is for all Filipinos to learn how to do a thorough HNSE and then, to do it on a regular planned interval throughout their lifetime.
When to Do Head and Neck Self-examination
HNSE can be done anytime.
HNSE can be done at the time when a person feels or sees something unusual on his head and neck. It can also be done even when a person does not feel or see something unusual. It is highly recommended, however, that the HNSE be developed into a health habit starting at the time when a person does not feel or see something unusual yet as this practice has a higher chance of detecting diseases earlier than doing HNSE when there are symptoms already.
A regular HNSE can be done anytime of the year and anytime of the day. However, a recommended regular planned interval is monthly – once a month. A day within the month should be identified as the day for HNSE. The basis for the choice of a day is left to the person who is committed to do regular HNSE. It can be a day easy to remember such as every first or last day or 15th day of the month or any favorite day each month. It can be in a day that has been chosen for another type of self- examination to be done, such as breast self-examination (BSE) for females. For BSE, for females with menstrual periods, the recommended time is 5 to 7 days after the last day. Thus, for females, the time to do HNSE can be on the same day in which BSE is to be done.
How to do Head and Neck Self-examination
FEEL for anything unusual on the head and neck such as soreness or pain.
LOOK for anything unusual on the head and neck such as:
- Change in the usual appearance of a previous skin mark and mole on the skin.
- Appearance of a lesion such as redness, rashes, wheals, wounds, and growth on the skin.
- Appearance of a bulge on the skin.
Use a mirror to facilitate doing the “look” part of the self-examination on the head and neck, particularly its side and back parts.
PALPATE the whole head and neck for anything unusual on the skin and underlying structure such as tenderness (pain on pressure) and mass.
Once anything unusual is felt, seen, and/or palpated, consult a physician as soon as possible. For those unusual changes discovered on looking, take pictures and show them to the physician during the medical consult.
Below are samples of pictures of head and neck diseases that, when familiarized, may facilitate a person’s doing a thorough self-examination and may assist in deciding on the urgency in consulting a physician.
Head and Neck Infection
Primary clue for infection is presence of redness.
Head and Neck Masses
Scalp – Forehead Mass (which turned out to be not cancer – lipoma)
Bulge near the right eyebrow (which turned out to be not cancer – dermoid cyst)
Facial Mass (which turned out to be not cancer – seborrheic keratosis)
Head and Neck Skin Cancers
Melanoma (a type of skin cancer)
Basal cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer)
Squamous cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer)
Oral Cavity Masses
Tongue mass (which turned out to be not cancer – neurofibroma)
Lip Melanoma (a type of cancer on the lip)
Neck Skin Mass (which turned out to be not cancer – keratoacanthoma)
Lymph Nodes on the Neck
This turned out to be tuberculosis of the lymph node on the neck.
The lymph node on the lower left most part of the neck turned out to be a spread from the inner neck mass which turned out to be thyroid cancer.
Do self-examination of the head and neck regularly and thoroughly.
Self-examination of the head and neck facilitates early detection of any diseases that may affect these parts of a person’s body. Once anything unusual is felt, seen, and/or palpated, consult a physician as soon as possible.
Early detection and treatment of head and neck diseases is associated with a lot of health benefits such as higher chance of successful treatment and prevention of disfigurement and premature death.