Head and Neck Cancer Awareness and Prevention Can Save Lives
Head and Neck Cancer Awareness and Prevention Can Save Lives
Dr. Vijay Agarwal
Head and neck cancer refers to several types of cancers that affect the head and neck region of the body such as the mouth, throat, nose, salivary glands, and other locations of the head and neck. These cancers account for approximately 3% to 5% of all cancers in India. It is more common in men and in people above age 50. These cancers are very treatable if detected early and are easily preventable. Alcohol and tobacco use are the most common causes of head and neck cancer. To limit the risk of head and neck cancers, stop using tobacco products and limit the amount of alcohol and avoid indoor tanning. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is also an important risk factor for a few types of head and neck cancers.
What are the signs and symptoms of head & neck cancer?
The signs and symptoms of head & neck cancer are usually dependent on the cancer location. The common signs and symptoms are:
Non-healing ulcers in the mouth or cheek
Persistent sore throat
Difficulty in swallowing
Lumps in the neck
Change or hoarseness in the voice
Tongue or mouth sore that does not heal
White or red patch on the tongue, gums or lining of the mouth.
Swelling in the neck area
Neck pain that won't go away
Pain in the upper teeth
Blood in the saliva
Difficulty breathing or speaking.
If you notice any of these symptoms, it is necessary to check with your oncologist immediately. They may be signs of less severe conditions, but a thorough exam should be done.
What are the types of head & neck cancer?
There are several different types of head and neck cancers. Your surgeon can tell you more about the type you have. The most common types are:
Oral cavity cancer – appears in the mouth
Oropharyngealcancer – appears in the backside of the mouth or the throat
Nasal cavity cancer – appears in the opening behind the nose
Paranasalsinus cancer – appears in the openings around or near the nose called sinuses
Nasopharyngealcancer – appears in the upper part of the throat behind the nose
Laryngealcancer – appears in the voice box
Hypopharyngealcancer – appears on the downward side of the throat beside and behind the voice box.
What are the causes of head and neck cancer?
The basic causes of head and neck cancer include:
Smoke – Cigarettes, beedis
Spirits – Alcohol consumption
Spices – Chewing tobacco, Gutka, and khat
Sharp tooth - irritation
Infections – HPV and EBV infections
What is the best way to prevent head and neck cancer?
Different types of cancer are caused by different factors. Researchers are still investigating what factors cause this type of cancer, as well as ways to prevent it. Although there is no proven method of completely preventing this disease, you may be able to reduce your risk. Speak with your health care team to learn more about your personal cancer risk.
The most important thing a person can do to reduce their risk is to stop using all tobacco products, even if they have been smoking for many years. Other preventive measures for head and neck cancer include:
Discussing marijuana as a risk factor with your doctor and avoiding marijuana use
Regularly applying sunscreen, including lip balm with an appropriate sun protection factor (SPF)
Reducing your risk of Human papillomavirus (HPV)infection is also important. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved HPV vaccine Gardasil for the prevention of certain types of head and neck cancer. Limiting your number of sexual partners can also lower your risk of HPV. Using a condom during sex cannot completely protect you from HPV.
Maintaining proper care of dentures. Poorly fitting dentures can trap tobacco and alcohol’s cancer-causing substances. People who wear dentures should have their dentures evaluated by a dentist at least every 5 years to ensure a good fit. Dentures should be removed every night and cleaned and rinsed thoroughly every day.
How head and neck cancers are diagnosed?
During your yearly checkup, your doctor should examine the insides of your mouth, nose, and throat. They should also examine your neck for lumps. This is especially true if you use tobacco or have used it in the past, or if you regularly consume alcohol.
If you have symptoms of head or neck cancer or your doctor notices anything unusual during your yearly exam, you may need to have a few tests. These may include:
Endoscopy (a procedure in which a doctor looks inside your head and neck through a tube that goes through your nose and down your throat)
A tissue sample (biopsy) and lab tests on the tumour if there is one
Imaging tests such as X-rays and CT scans
If you have head or neck cancer, your healthcare specialist will try to figure out how far it has advanced, or what stage it is in. They’ll also check if it has spread to other organs of your body.
What kind of treatment is required?
There are numerous ways to cure head or neck cancer, but the major types of treatment are local or systemic. Surgery and radiation therapy are used to treat cancer locally. They do not influence the rest of the body. This is known as a local treatment. Chemo and targeted therapy drugs go through the entire body.
Generally, doctors use both local and systemic treatments for head and neck cancers. The treatment plan that is perfect for you will depend on:
Location of the cancer
The level of the cancer
The chance that a type of treatment will heal cancer or help in some way
How the treatment will influence the way you talk, breathe, and eat
Other health problems you have
The treatments of head and neck cancer may include:
Surgery: Few of these cancers are in places that are difficult to operate on. Still, surgery may be used to take out cancer and an edge of healthy tissue on all sides of it. In various cases, all or a few parts of the tongue, voice box, throat, windpipe, or jaw bone may be required to be removed. Surgery may also be used to remove lymph nodes in the neck that haven’t gotten better with other treatments.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy plays a significant role in the management of head and neck cancers. It is usually given following surgery in certain advanced cancers. Radiation is also combined with chemotherapy. Few types of head and neck cancers like nasopharyngeal and larynx cancers require only radiation therapy with or without chemotherapy. Various types of Radiation therapy may be advised for patients like 3DCRT, IGRT, or IMRT.
Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation schemes are doctors supervised plans for patients who undergo treatment for cancer. It helps them to get back to their daily activities faster as well as upgrade their well-being.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is combined with radiation and surgery to improve local control. In some cases, chemotherapy may be beneficial before radiation treatment or surgery. This type of therapy is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy and mostly is a combination of 2 or 3 drugs.
Targeted therapy/Immunotherapy:: Targeted and Immunotherapy can be given as a single agent or with chemotherapy. It can be used along with radiation therapy as well. The drugs used in targeted therapy selectively destroy cancer cells.
Cancer Therapy India is regarded as one of the best head neck cancer hospitals in Bangalore. We have a multidisciplinary team of top head and neck cancer surgeons who works with patients to help them make informed decisions about their treatment options, while also offering therapies to control potential side effects