Head and neck cancer: Taking stock of the risk factors - Make Sense Campaign
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Dr. A.K. Malhotra

Head and neck cancer is the second most common cancer in India. Around 2 lakh people in India are diagnosed with this disease every year.

The term broadly describes the cancers that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, or mouth. These cancers begin when healthy cells in these areas change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumour. Many of these tumours start in flat squamous cells that form the surface layer of tissues inside the head and neck.

These cancers are caused due to tobacco use, be it smoking of cigarettes or chewing of betel nut and gutka. Excessive consumption of alcohol, advancing age, and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection are the other contributory factors.

The symptoms of head and neck cancer may include a lump or a sore that does not heal, difficulty in swallowing, a change or hoarseness of the voice, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.

Tests such as biopsy, endoscopy, molecular testing, X-ray, ultrasound, and CT scan are recommended for the diagnosis of head and neck cancer.

The treatment depends on the location of the tumour, the stage of cancer, and the patient’s age and health condition.

The treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, or a combination of these.

Newer therapies are immunotherapy or targeted therapy, which involve the body’s own mechanisms to fight cancer. Targeted therapy helps target the cancer-specific protein while limiting damage to healthy cells. Immunotherapy boosts the body’s natural defences to fight the cancer, but while it helps in targeting the cancer cells, it may also have an effect on healthy cells.

Friends and family members should take good care of patients and offer emotional support to them.

This article has been written by Dr.A.K.Malhotra, MS, Chief Surgeon, Central Hospital, South Eastern Railway, Kolkata.