Head & Neck Cancer - Know the Facts

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Risk factors for developing head, neck and oral cancer:
  • Tobacco product usage including: cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless or chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol usage
  • Chewing betel nuts
  • Certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Sunlight exposure (mainly for lips)

Here's some basic information about head and neck cancer, its proliferation in the United States, and current information about how it is being treated.

Cancers that develop in the oral cavity, including the lips, the pharynx (larynx, oropharynx and nasopharnyx) or sinuses are classified as head, neck and oral cancers.

Most of the head, neck and oral cancers start in cells called squamous cells. These are the flat cells that line different sites of the body. When uncontrolled growth of the cells (cancer) are found in squamous cells, it is called squamous cell carcinoma. Other forms of cancers can also be found in the head, neck and oral sites.

Where does head, neck and oral cancer start?
Cancers of the oral cavity develop in the following areas: the lips, the front of the tongue, the gingiva (gums), buccal mucosa (cheeks), the floor or bottom of the mouth, the hard palate (top of the mouth) or the retromolar trigone (the small area behind the wisdom teeth). A large percentage of head and neck cancers begin in the mouth as sores or lesions. Lesions that could lead to cancer are white lesions called leukoplakia and red lesions called erythroplakia. Erythroplakia, which is less common than leukoplakia, is more likely to become cancerous. Any lesion that does not heal in two weeks, however, should be seen by a physician, and a biopsy should be considered.

Pharyngeal cancers start in the base of the tongue, the pharynx, the tonsils, the vocal cords, and other areas of the upper aero-digestive tract.

Prevention Measures:
  • Change lifestyle and eating habits for healthier alternatives
  • Avoid known cancer-causing agents like tobacco and alcohol
  • Discuss HPV (human papilloma virus) transmission with your physician or healthcare provider

Who does head, neck and oral cancer effect?
While the total number of cases of head, neck and oral cancer has been decreasing slowly in the United States over the past 20 years; there is evidence to show that diagnoses are increasing in adults, 40 years and younger.