Head and Neck Cancer Awareness: How Can you Reduce Your Risk

Did you know that March is National Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month? The term ‘head and neck cancers’ refers to a type of tumor that begins in areas in and around the mouth, throat and nose. Taking healthy steps to reduce risk can prevent many head and neck cancers. Take a moment to raise your awareness of head and neck cancers. More than 55,000 new cases of head and neck cancers will be diagnosed in 2015, according to American Cancer Society.

What are head and neck cancers?

Head and neck cancers generally begin in the squamous cells lining the moist surfaces of cavities in the skull. Head and neck cancers can also develop in the salivary glands. Head and neck cancers are classified according to the region of the head and neck where they originate.

  • Oral cavity, includes the lips, tongue and gums.
  • Larynx, also called the voice box.
  • Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity, which are located behind and within the nose.
  • Salivary glands, which are located on the sides and beneath the floor of the mouth.

Treatment options for head and neck cancers will vary and depend on many factors, which include cancer location, cancer stage, patient age and overall health of patient.

Other cancers in the head and neck that are located in the eyes, brain, esophagus and thyroid gland are classified separately from the other head and neck cancers and may have different treatments.

Who is at risk for developing head and neck cancers according to the National Cancer Institute?

Men are about three times more likely to be diagnosed with a head or neck cancer than women. Tobacco use and alcohol consumption account for at least 75 percent of the known causes of head and neck cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Additional risk factors for head and neck cancers include:

  • Poor oral health.
  • Occupational exposure to certain carcinogens, such as wood dust and asbestos.
  • Asian ancestry.
  • Personal history of HPV and Epstein-Barr viruses.

What are the symptoms of head and neck cancers?

Different types of head and neck cancers will cause different symptoms. Symptoms that your physician should look out for include:

  • Persistent sore in the mouth or on the tongue.
  • Swelling in the neck or face that may not produce pain.
  • Persistent sinus or nasal problems, such as obstruction or discharge.
  • Problems swallowing or pain when swallowing.
  • Persistent sore throat or hoarseness.

Are there any screening exams for head and neck cancers?

There are no specific set of tests or exams used to screen for head and neck cancers. Unfortunately, most are only diagnosed after patients begin experiencing symptoms or a physician detects a sign of cancer. Patients often overlook head and neck cancers, as the symptoms are often mild or not unusual.

Routine visits to a primary care physician can enable early detection of head and neck cancers. Many of these cancers can be seen or felt during physical examination.

Steps to reduce risk for head and neck cancers

A significant number of head and neck cancers can be prevented. If you smoke, use other tobacco products or drink excessively, talk to your physician about developing a plan to reduce risk and prevent head and neck cancers.

  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Quit smoking or using other tobacco products.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene.
  • Receive a dental exam twice per year.
  • Maintain a nutritious, well-balanced diet. 

A significant number of head and neck cancers can be prevented. If you smoke, use other tobacco products or drink excessively, talk to your physician about developing a plan to reduce risk and prevent head and neck cancers.

If you have questions or have been diagnosed with head and neck cancer, please contact us. 

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