Head and neck cancer screenings detect 55,000 new cancers every year. When detected early there is an 80% survival rate. That’s important to know because the rate of these cancers increased 225% between 1988 and 2004. The symptoms of head and neck cancers vary widely and many can be easily detected through these screenings.

Who is most apt to get head and neck cancers?

  • Men: They are twice as likely to contract these types of cancer than women.
  • Smokers: 75% of head and neck cancers are caused by smoking.
  • People over 50.
  • Young adults: Head and neck cancers are on the rise with this age group because of the rise of the incidence of the human-papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a virus that can cause cancer and is transmitted through oral sex.

What are the symptoms of head and neck cancers?

  • The symptoms can include swelling, pain, and/or bleeding in the nose, mouth, ears or sinuses, frequent headaches, trouble breathing or swallowing, or discoloration on the gums.
  • The symptoms of head and neck cancers can appear in the oral cavity, the pharynx (the cavity behind the nose and mouth), the larynx, (the voice box), the sinuses, naval cavity and the salivary glands.
  • Any time you feel pain or discomfort that has not been there before, or if a sinus infection cannot be resolved through medication, it is important that you be checked by an ear, nose and throat specialist.

What are the risks for head and neck cancers?

  1. Smoking, (which includes chewing tobacco), and alcohol top the list of risks for head and neck cancers. Leading cancer organizations in the US say that these habits cause a minimum of 75% of head and neck cancers. If you smoke and use alcohol, your risk increases even more.
  2. Young adults who are infected with the types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cancer are at an increased risk for head and neck cancers. It is important to note that while other types of head and neck cancers are decreasing in the United States, most likely due to increased screening and improved detection, the incidence of these cancers caused by HPV is actually increasing.
  3. Poor oral health: Taking care of your teeth and gums is essential to avoid head and neck cancers. While this is not considered one of the highest risks it is considered a contributing factor. Also, good oral health prevents bacteria from causing infections and other health problems.
  4. Environmental exposure: Exposure to certain work environments where poisons or various types of dust are inhaled is a risk factor. This includes prolonged exposure to wood dust and airborne particles found in the textile, metal and construction industries.
  5. Medical treatments: Radiation exposure to treat conditions in the head and neck can increase the risk of cancer of the salivary glands.

What are the treatments for head and neck cancers?

The treatments for these cancers depend entirely on the size, type and location of the symptoms as well as the age and overall health of the patient. For example, tumors may be treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery. Lip and oral cancers may be treated with drugs. There is no standard approach because each cancer is treated as a highly specific case.

It can be frightening to be diagnosed with head and neck cancer. However, it’s important to remember that early detection leads to an 80% survival rate.



National Cancer Institute

Head and Neck Cancer Alliance