Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month

By Sarah C. Rodriguez, MD
DHR Health Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist

April is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month. Head and neck cancer most commonly refers to a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, which can affect the mouth, throat (pharynx), and voice box (larynx). Head and neck cancers account for about 4% of all cancers in the United States, occur more often in men than women, and arise more often after age 50. Risk factors for this type of cancer include alcohol and tobacco exposure (smoking or chewing tobacco) and certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

Early diagnosis and treatment of this disease is critical. These symptoms should prompt a visit with your doctor:

  • a sore in your mouth that does not heal
  • a persistent sore throat
  • lumps or lesions in your mouth or throat
  • trouble swallowing
  • a change in your voice or hoarseness
  • a lump in your neck

Treatment may include surgery or radiation. Sometimes chemotherapy is added to the treatment regimen. If the disease is caught early, the chances of good cosmetic and functional outcomes increase. If the disease is not caught early, there may be a long-term impact on swallowing, speaking, appearance, and breathing.

What can you do to prevent this type of cancer? First, do not smoke or chew tobacco. If you use tobacco, work with your physician to quit smoking. If you have a history of smoking, be vigilant about the signs of head and neck cancer and get checked by your physician if you develop any of them. Second, avoid HPV infection. HPV is sexually transmitted. Limiting sexual partners and practicing safer sex can decrease transmission of HPV. There is an HPV vaccine available for patients ages 9 to 45. Women can be screened for HPV during routine women’s health examinations. There is no HPV screening test for men.

If you would like more information about oral, head and neck cancer or would like to schedule a consultation with our ENT specialist, please call the DHR Health ENT Institute at (956) 362-8125.