If you know someone who has head and neck cancer, you may probably ask what these cancers are and how they occur. Head and neck cancers have affected more than 5 million people worldwide as of 2015 and have caused 379,000 deaths by then. These cancers are the seventh most frequent cancers worldwide, and the average five-year survival after diagnosis is around 50%. What is interesting is that the two important head and neck cancer risk factors are easily preventable–smoking and alcohol abuse.
Here are some facts that you need to know about head and neck cancers.
1. They start within the tissues of the head and neck
Head and neck cancers usually begin in the squamous cells that line the mucosal surfaces of the mouth, the nose, and the throat. Head and neck tumors may also begin in the salivary glands, though rare.
2. They are classified according to the areas where they originate
Oral cancers originate from the mouth, the palate and the gums.
Pharyngeal cancers are from the pharynx, a hollow tube from the nose to the esophagus.
Laryngeal cancers are from the larynx or the voice box, which contain the vocal cords.
Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity cancers are from the small empty spaces in the bones of the head that envelope the nose.
Salivary gland cancers are from the salivary glands.
3. They are mostly caused by long-term alcohol and tobacco use
Alcohol and tobacco use are the two most important risk factors for head and neck cancers. Other risk factors are betel quid chewing, consumption of salty foods, poor oral hygiene, exposure to wood dust, radiation exposure, Epstein-Barr virus infection, and Asian race. If you are currently smoking, consider quitting now. Drink alcohol in moderation.
4. They can present as sore throat and hoarseness of voice
Other symptoms are difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness of the voice, white or red patches in the gums, jaw swelling and bleeding in the mouth. If you have these symptoms and the risk factors, consult your doctor.
5. Head and neck cancers are treatable
The treatment plan for a person with head and neck cancer relies upon various factors such as the area of the tumor, the stage of cancer, and the individual’s age and general health. Treatment for head and neck cancers include surgery, radiation treatment, chemotherapy, targeted treatment, or a combination of these.
Head and Neck Cancers. (2019). US National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/head-neck-fact-sheet
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