Oral, head and neck cancer refers to many types of cancer, including those that arise in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, tonsils, throat, voice box and thyroid gland. Head and neck cancers represent about 3 percent of all new cancers in the United States. In 2017, there will be more that 650,000 new cases of head and neck cancers diagnosed worldwide. When detected early, these cancers are very treatable with fewer long-term side effects.
Tobacco and alcohol use are risk factors for oral, head and neck cancers, particularly those that arise from the tongue, mouth, throat and voice box. According to the National Cancer Institute, people who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk for developing a head and neck cancer than those who use either alcohol or tobacco alone.
Human Papilloma Virus has recently emerged as having a connection to oropharyngeal (tonsil and base of tongue) cancer. These HPV related cancers are often found in younger patients with little to no smoking history.
Anyone can develop thyroid cancers, however; a family history or exposure to radiation is considered a factor that may increase risk. Most salivary gland cancers do not seem to be associated with any particular cause.
When to see your doctor:
You should seek medical attention for any of the following signs or symptoms which last longer than two weeks:
- Sore throat or swollen tonsil
- Voice changes or hoarseness
- Lumps or bumps in the head and neck
- Red or white patches or a sore in your mouth or on your tongue that does not heal or increases in size
- Persistent cough or coughing with eating or drinking
HPV and head and neck cancer:
Researchers have correlated the increase of head and neck cancer incidence in young adults, a group that was traditionally low risk, to the human-papillomavirus (HPV), a cancer-causing virus that can be transmitted through sexual contact. Many studies support that oropharyngeal cancers, those arising from the tonsils, back of the throat and base of tongue, have been on the rise since the mid 1980’s, and currently 50-70 percent of these cases are caused by HPV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 receives the HPV vaccination. Teens and young women can get the HPV vaccine until they are 27 years old and young men should get the HPV vaccine until they are 22 years old. Learn more about the HPV vaccine from the CDC.
If you are interested in learning more about head and neck cancer, visit sanfordhealth.org/medical-services/cancer.