Approximately 110,000 people are diagnosed with oral, head and neck cancers every year in the United States. Fortunately, many of these cancers are preventable and can be successfully treated if caught early. Southern Cancer Center is encouraging people to learn more about these potentially life-threatening diseases during Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness month this April.

Understanding Oral, Head and Neck Cancers
Oral cancers usually begin in the squamous cells inside the mouth, nose and throat. Head and neck cancers are identified by the area where the cancer occurs, including: the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, paranasal sinuses, nasal cavity, and salivary glands. These cancers are more than twice as common in men as in women.

Early Detection and Treatment Provides Better Outcomes
Roughly 66 percent of oral cancers are not discovered until late stages, making them difficult to treat. Early detection is critical, but it’s estimated that 71 percent of Americans have never been examined by a medical professional for oral, head or neck cancer.

“Every person should be proactive and make sure these exams are part of their routine physicals and dental visits,” said Southern Cancer Center oncologist Dr. Brian Heller. “When these diseases are detected early, there is a much greater opportunity for a positive outcome.”

Risk Factors
Approximately 90 percent of oral, head and neck cancers arise from prolonged exposure to risks that can be reduced by behavior modification. Tobacco use and consumption of alcoholic beverages are the most preventable and common causes of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box and tongue. Throat cancer also occurs as a result of infection from the human papilloma virus (HPV). Prolonged exposure to sunlight is another risk factor, as it is linked to cancer of the lip as well as skin cancer.

The Connection to HPV
Each year, an estimated 26,000 young non-smokers develop mouth and throat cancer attributable to the human-papilloma virus. Fortunately, these cancers respond well to radiation and chemotherapy. HPV vaccination is recommended for children ages 11-12 to help prevent these cancers.

Symptoms That May Occur
Symptoms of oral, head and neck cancers include:
-A lump in the neck that lasts several weeks
-Change in the voice such as hoarseness
-A growth in the mouth such as a sore or swelling that doesn’t go away
-Blood in saliva or phlegm for more than a few days
-Swallowing problems
-Persistent earache or pain near the ear when swallowing

Treatment Options
The three main types of treatment for oral, head and neck cancers are radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy, with radiation as a primary treatment. An advanced, high-precision radiotherapy treatment for these cancers, called Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), is proving to be an effective tool. It delivers high radiation doses to a malignant tumor by precisely conforming to the three-dimensional shape of the tumor. By controlling the intensity of the radiation beam, a higher dose can be given to the tumor while minimizing exposure to healthy cells.

For more information about oral, head and neck cancers, contact Southern Cancer Center at 251.625.6896.

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