Why are so many Indians getting head and neck cancer? - Make Sense Campaign
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Dr. Praveena Voona

Of the 10 lakh cases of cancer detected in India every year, around 2 lakh are cancers of the head and neck.
Head and neck cancers are tumours in and around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, or mouth. They are mostly squamous cell carcinomas, which arise from flat squamous cells. In India, oral squamous cell carcinoma is the most common cancer in men and the fourth most common cancer in women. Cancers of the lip and oral cavity are the second most common cancer in India.

Head and neck cancer is caused by tobacco use and overconsumption of alcohol. Other risk factors include infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) and overexposure to sunrays.

The symptoms of head and neck cancer include red or white patches on the gums, breathing difficulties, pain while swallowing, or pain in the face. Tests such as biopsy and PET-CT scan are recommended to diagnose the disease.
The treatment options range from surgery to radiotherapy to chemotherapy to immunotherapy to targeted therapy. Treatment can also include a combination of these.

Patients with localized head and neck carcinomas are generally managed with either surgery or radiation therapy alone. However, a combined modality may be required in cases with high-risk features. In more advanced stages (III, IV A), the disease is typically managed with radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Palliative systemic therapy is appropriate for most patients with locally recurrent and metastatic disease. Targeted therapy is different from traditional chemotherapy. It works by targeting the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or tissues that contribute to cancer growth.

Immunotherapy helps the body’s immune system in fighting cancer. It, however, may not suit every patient.

This article has been written by Dr.Praveena Voona, Consultant, Medical Oncologist, Mahatma Gandhi Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, Visakhapatnam.