Head and neck cancer in the 21st century - Make Sense Campaign
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Dr.Rajat Saha

Head and neck cancer is a devastating disease. It encompasses cancers of the oral cavity, tongue, tonsils, oropharynx, and larynx.

The main cause of the disease is consumption of tobacco and alcohol. Owing to increased use of tobacco, India contributes to nearly 60% of head and neck cancer patients worldwide. This number is expected to double by 2030. Understanding the carcinogenic components of tobacco products and how they lead to head and neck cancer can help in preventing head and neck cancer.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) has in recent times been also implicated as a major cause of oropharyngeal cancer.
Head and neck cancer is treated via a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Oral cancers i.e., cancers of the lip, tongue and cheek are primarily treated with surgery.

Cancers of the oropharynx and larynx are treated primarily with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Voice preservation is the main motive behind this approach. Aggressive physiotherapy helps in speech articulation, swallowing, and maintenance of oral hygiene. A new genre of immunotherapy drugs also provides hope for the treatment of head and neck cancer.

Prevention is better than cure. This proverb would have been written keeping in mind the strong causality between tobacco usage and head and neck cancer. Interventions by the government as well as non-governmental organisations will help in reducing the burden of tobacco-related diseases in the country.

This article has been written by Dr.Rajat Saha, Senior Consultant, Head & Neck DMG Medical Oncology, Max Institute of Cancer Care, Patparganj & Vaishali, Delhi-NCR.