The enormous burden of head and neck cancer - Make Sense Campaign
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Dr. Venkatesh M

April is observed as Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Month. Here are a few facts about the disease.

  1. What is head and neck cancer?

Head and neck cancer occurs in the oral cavity, the larger pharyngeal area (including the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx), and the larynx.

  1. What is the most common type of head & neck cancer?

       Squamous histology is present in 95% of head and neck cancer cases.

  1. What is the incidence of head & neck cancer?

Head and neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide. There are approximately 650,000 cases and 200,000 deaths from this disease every year. In certain parts of Asia, such as India, head and neck cancer is the most common cancer type.

  1. Is there any gender difference in the incidence of head and neck cancer?

Men are thrice more likely to suffer from head and neck cancer than women.

  1. What are the causes of head & neck cancer?

The consumption of tobacco in any form (cigarettes, cigars, chutta, beedi, gutka, khaini) and alcohol contribute to head and neck cancer. HPV infection is another risk factor, and is particularly seen among young adults.

  1. What are the symptoms of head and neck cancer?

The symptoms include a non-healing ulcer in the mouth, swelling / growth in the mouth or neck, change in voice, swallowing or breathing difficulties, blocking of the nasal passage or bleeding from the nose. If you present with any of these symptoms, then you need to consult an ENT specialist immediately.

  1. How is head and neck cancer diagnosed?

It is diagnosed through a biopsy of the ulcer/mass/enlarged lymph node. It is then staged through a clinical examination.

  1. What are the treatment options for head & neck cancer?

Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy (Cetuximab), and immunotherapy (Nivolumab) are the treatment options.  If the cancer detected in the early stages (stages I & II), then it is likely to get cured. The chances of a recurrence are also low.

In the advanced stages (stages III & IV), there are fewer chances of cure and higher chances of a recurrence.

  1. What are the preventive strategies?

You can prevent head and neck cancer by quitting tobacco use.

This article has been written by Dr.Venkatesh M, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Surya Global Hospital, Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh.