Head & Neck Cancer Awareness

Head & Neck Cancer Awareness

According to a World Health Organization review, oral, head and neck cancer is the sixth leading cancer by incidence worldwide. Head and neck cancer appears in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, thyroid gland, throat, or larynx (voice box). Based on the most recent statistics available, the annual incidence of head and neck cancers worldwide is more than 550,000 cases with around 300,000 deaths each year. In the United States, over 65,000 new cases (not including thyroid cancer) are expected to be diagnosed each year. These cancers are more than twice as common in men as they are in women.

A majority of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco or alcohol use, two major risk factors for the disease, however the HPV (human papillomavirus) is also linked to head and neck cancers, especially in younger populations. Head and neck cancers make up approximately 3% of all cancers in the United States.

The most common risk factors for head and neck cancers are:

  • Tobacco use, both smoking and chewing tobacco
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Poor diet
  • Sun exposure to the lips
  • Environmental exposure / industrial exposure (such as wood or nickel dust inhalation)
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Plummer-Vinson Syndrome, a rare disorder that results from iron and nutritional deficiencies
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)

The symptoms below can indicate a variety of health conditions but are most common for patients diagnosed with oral, head & neck cancer. If you have persistent symptoms, it is important to follow up with your physician.

  • A lump in the neck
  • Persistent sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • Difficultly or pain when swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • A change in voice/persistent hoarseness
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth
  • A swelling in the jaw/chin

While medical issues surrounding HPV are becoming more well-known, it might be surprising to learn HPV is actually the leading cause of head and neck cancer. HPV (Human papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and can cause serious health problems, including several different types of cancers. HPV is linked to 70 percent of all head and throat cancer cases in the United States, according to the CDC. HPV is a prevalent virus in the Hampton Roads community. Sentara Healthcare applied for and received a grant from the American Cancer Society to better educate the community on prevention, vaccination and health issues associated with the virus.

In addition to bringing a higher level of care close to home, Sentara Cancer Network goes beyond diagnosis and treatment. When you are under our care, we also listen, answer questions, and ensure your priorities are reflected in the personalized care plan developed. Our team members will also guide you to more information, resources, support groups and whatever else you may need. We know it takes more than medicine to help you heal, and Sentara is committed to caring for you and your family through the process.

With the Sentara Cancer Network on your side, you will have a dedicated head and neck oncology team with expertise to guide you, treat you and support you throughout your journey.