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Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month: Take a close look at your health

Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month: Take a close look at your health

During Head and Neck Awareness Month this April, seize the opportunity to learn about cancers that affect the head, mouth, throat and neck. According to the National Cancer Institute, head and neck cancers account for nearly 4% of all cancer cases. This year in the U.S., more than 2 million people will be diagnosed with cancer, which means nearly 80,000 will be diagnosed with cancer of the head or neck.

In addition to being Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month, the month is also designated as Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month by the Oral Cancer Foundation. Keep reading to learn more from our Touro team.

[H2] Understanding head and neck cancers

The National Cancer Institute defines head and neck cancers as those affecting the:

  • Oral cavity, including the cheek and gums, front and middle of the tongue, lips and lip lining, the floor of the mouth, the hard palate, and the gums around the wisdom teeth
  • Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity
  • Salivary glands
  • Throat and voice box

What’s not included in this category? Cancers affecting the brain, eyes, esophagus, thyroid gland and the skin of the head and neck are considered separate diseases.

Symptoms of head, neck, mouth and throat cancers

Because there are no general guidelines for head and neck cancer screening, it’s important to keep a close eye on your health and to talk with a medical provider about anything that seems unusual. Signs of head and neck cancer vary depending on the specific type of cancer:

  • Cancer affecting the oral cavity may cause white or red patches on the gums, the tongue or the lining of the mouth, along with unusual bleeding, mouth discomfort and swelling in the jaw.
  • Cancer of the throat (also called the pharynx) may cause pain while swallowing, pain in the neck or throat, pain or ringing in the ears, and difficulty hearing.
  • Cancer of the voice box (also called the larynx) may cause difficulty speaking or breathing, painful swallowing or ear pain.
  • Cancer of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity may cause blocked sinuses, nose bleeds, frequent headaches and pain in the upper teeth.
  • Cancer of the salivary glands may cause swelling of the chin or jaw and facial numbness or pain.

The treatment plan for head and neck cancers also varies depending on the type of cancer and may include a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy.

What you can do to protect your health

Paying close attention to your health can help you seek medical care as early as possible. You can also take steps to lower your risk of developing head and neck cancers.

Increasingly, many cases of head and neck cancer, particularly oral cancers, are related to the human papillomavirus (HPV). Because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, practicing safe sex using condoms and dental dams is one way to lower your risk. HPV vaccination, which is recommended as a routine vaccination series for preteens and can be given to some adults up to age 45, can also help prevent HPV.

Other risk factors for head and neck cancers include excessive alcohol consumption and the use of tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink and if you smoke or use tobacco talk with your provider about finding a way to quit.

Seeing a dentist regularly can also be helpful since signs of head and neck cancers can often be detected earlier by a dental provider.

When you need care for cancer, you can find the treatment options you need close to home. Touro offers cancer care services from diagnosis through recovery.