April is National Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month and according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (Head and Neck Surgery), each year, more than 55,000 Americans will develop cancer of the head and neck (most of which is preventable) and nearly 13,000 of them will die from it.
Head and neck cancer is a term used to describe a number of different cancerous tumors that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, and mouth. These cancers typically begin in the squamous cells that line the moist surfaces inside the mouth, nose and throat.
Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of head and neck cancer. In the U.S., up to 200,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses. The good news is that this figure has decreased due to the increasing number of Americans who have quit smoking. The bad news is that some of these smokers switched to smokeless or spit tobacco, assuming it is a safe alternative. By doing so, they are only changing the site of the cancer risk from their lungs to their mouths. While lung cancer cases are decreasing, cancers in the head and neck appear to be increasing, but they are curable if caught early.
Fortunately, most head and neck cancers produce early symptoms. Below are some potential warning signs of head and neck cancer. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should alert your doctor as soon as possible.
There are several head and neck cancer symptoms, including:
– Lump, bump, or mass in the head or neck area, with or without pain
– Persistent sore throat
– Hoarseness or change in voice
– Nasal obstruction or persistent nasal congestion
– Frequent nose bleeds and/or unusual nasal discharge
– Blood in the saliva or phlegm
– Ear and/or jaw pain
Many cancers of the head and neck can be cured, especially if they are found early. Although eliminating the cancer is the primary goal of treatment, preserving the function of the nearby nerves, organs, and tissues is also very important. When planning treatment, doctors consider how treatment might affect a person’s quality of life, such as how a person feels, looks, talks, eats, and breathes. Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health.
At the Radiation Oncology Services at Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC), we treat head and neck cancer painlessly and noninvasively with external beam radiation therapy (EBRT). EBRT is an effective treatment for head and neck cancer, working within cancer cells to limit their ability to multiply. During treatment, high-energy X-rays are delivered to the cancer with a linear accelerator (LINAC). The treatment process is painless, safe and treatments take about 10 to 15 minutes per treatment session. Side effects that can occur may require medication. Most patients return to routine activities immediately after completing treatment. Sometimes a combination of treatments, which may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, is the best plan for treating head and neck cancer.
For more information about head and neck cancer, or any of the conditions treated at the Radiation Oncology Services at Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC), please click here.