Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month

April 18, 2016

Oral, head and neck cancers are one of the most common forms of cancer today with increasing number of cases being reported that indicate towards a rise in this cancer at a global level. These are mostly squamous cell cancers and can develop in the mouth, nose or the throat. These cancers can also develop in the salivary glands but are quite rare. As the salivary glands are made of various types of cells the salivary gland cancers are further sub-divided.

The parts affected by the oral, head and neck cancers are the oral cavity (including the lips, front 2/3rd of the tongue, hard palate as well as the small area of the rear gums behind the wisdom teeth), pharynx (the throat which includes the nasopharynx, oropharynx and the hypopharynx), larynx (the voice-box which is composed of the vocal cords and the epiglottis), para-nasal sinuses and nasal cavity (these are the small hollow spaces in the bone of the head around the nose) as well as the salivary glands (these are located in the floor of the mouth and near to the jaw bone).

The causes of oral, head and neck cancer are not known however excessive and extended use of alcohol and tobacco are the known risk factors that contribute towards their development. Around 75% of the oral, head and neck cancers are known to be caused by alcohol and tobacco abuse. HPV (human papillomavirus) is another major risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers. Other risk factors that are known to increase the chances of development of oral, head and neck cancers are regular consumption of betel leaves, mate (tea-like beverage popular among Latin Americans), salted/preserved food, bad oral hygiene, occupational hazards, prolonged exposure to radiation as well as certain hereditary factors.

The common signs and symptoms of oral, head and neck cancer are a lump or a sore that does not heal, or a sore throat that is not being treated successfully, difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness or change in voice, white/red patch on gums and tongue, swelling of the jaw, unusual pain and bleeding in the mouth, breathing trouble or speech difficulties, pain in throat or neck from a long time, frequent headaches, pain or ringing in the ears as well as hearing trouble, pain while swallowing, blocked sinuses, chronic sinus infection that does not respond to treatment, swelling in eye or vision trouble, as well as swelling under the chin or around the jaw bone, numbness or paralysis in the facial muscles accompanied by pain in the chin, neck or face that is constant.

The diagnosis for oral, head and neck cancers initially begins with the thorough physical examination along with the study of the patient’s medical history. There are various advanced diagnostic tests that are advised usually by doctors to determine the presence of oral, head and neck cancers on order to decide the type of treatment that will be best-suited for the individual case. Mostly, diagnostic imaging tests, such as x-rays or CT scans are advised to help plan the treatment sessions.

There are various types of treatment available to treat the many oral, head and neck cancers. The exact choice of treatment depends on various factors such as the exact location of the cancer (tumor), its stage (extent of spread), patient’s age as well as their overall health. The treatment methods for oral, head and neck cancers can be surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy or a combination of some of these treatment methods.

The main aim of any oral, head and neck cancer treatment is to mainly control the abnormal growth of the cancerous cells as well as preserving the tissues and functions of the affected regions. These treatments are planned to be as efficient as possible in order to enable the patient to resume normal everyday activities as soon as possible. The rehabilitation process after the cancer treatment is also very vital as it can decide if the cancer can recur (return) in the future. The rehabilitation for the oral, head and neck cancer treatments may differ but will include physical therapy, dietary counseling as well as speech therapy.

It is important to understand and create extensive awareness regarding the causes, symptoms and the various treatments that are available to treat the various forms of oral, head and neck cancers.

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