Fox Chase Cancer Center Raises Awareness on Risk Factors and Signs of Head and Neck Cancer

PHILADELPHIA (April 17, 2018) – In honor of National Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Awareness Week (April 8–15), Fox Chase Cancer Center offered free head and neck screenings to individuals throughout the community. Our goal was to raise awareness on the risk factors and signs of these cancers. Head and neck cancer is used to describe many malignant tumors that develop in or around the throat, larynx (voice box), nose, sinuses and mouth.

According to the American Cancer Society, head and neck cancers are more than twice as common among men as they are among women. They are more likely to be diagnosed in people over age 50. Researchers estimate that head and neck cancers account for about 4% of all cancers in the U.S. In 2017, researchers estimated more than 65,000 men and women would be diagnosed with head and neck cancers.

Risk Factors

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection 
    Head and neck cancer caused by HPV is now one of the most common causes of head and neck cancer. Persistent infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16 or 18 is the causative agent for this cancer. “HPV-related oral cancers can be very difficult to detect since they usually occur on the back of the tongue or on the tonsils,” said Miriam N. Lango, MD, associate professor and head and neck oncologic surgeon at Fox Chase. “Patients often come to clinical attention because they noticed a new lump in the neck, after it has spread to the lymph nodes. Some patients note a growth on the pharynx or have a persistent sore throat. An experienced head and neck surgeon will be able to screen for this cancer.”
  • Alcohol and Tobacco Use 
    Alcohol and all tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco, also called “snuff” or “chewing tobacco”) are major risk factors for head and neck cancer. Drinking alcohol (beer, wine or liquor) raises the risk for cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box. People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at a much higher risk for developing these cancers than those who use tobacco or alcohol alone. 
  • “By limiting your intake of alcohol and quitting smoking, you can lower your risk of developing and dying from cancer,” said Lango. “No matter how long you’ve smoked, the benefits of smoking cessation are significant.” 
  • Ultraviolet (UV) Light Exposure 
    UV light exposure, such as exposure to the sun or artificial UV rays like tanning beds, is a major cause of skin cancers, including melanoma on the head and neck. “Limit your sun exposure, especially during peak hours, and avoid indoor tanning,” said Lango. Sunscreen is key for UV protection, even in winter. You can buy many moisturizers with added sun protection. The ACS also recommends wearing sunglasses, sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat when in the sun.

Other head and neck cancers may be related to previous radiation exposure; poor oral/dental hygiene; occupational exposure to asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes and certain chemicals; and infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (known for causing “mono”).

Signs and Symptoms

While some people with head and neck cancer may experience one or more signs listed below, others do not have any of these changes. It is also possible for the cause of a symptom to be something other than cancer. “I urge people to see a doctor if they experience any symptom lasting beyond two weeks,” said Lango. “Diagnosed early, head and neck cancers can be treated more effectively with fewer long-term side effects.

  • Swelling or a sore that does not heal
  • Red or white patches inside your mouth
  • Lump, bump or mass in the head or neck area, with or without pain
  • Persistent pain in your mouth or throat
  • Pain when swallowing or ear pain
  • Soreness in your throat or feeling something is caught in your throat
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue
  • Hoarseness or change in your voice
  • Frequent nosebleeds and/or unusual discharge

Screening for Head and Neck Cancer

The American Cancer Society, National Comprehensive Cancer Network and National Cancer Institute have not published screening guidelines for head and neck cancer. “I urge men and women to visit to their primary care doctor for an annual routine physical that includes a thorough examination of the neck, mouth and throat,” said Lango. “I also recommend a yearly routine dental evaluation that screens signs of oral cancer.”

“Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends vaccination against HPV for boys and girls starting at age 9, which will protect them from head and neck cancers caused by HPV,” said Lango.

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence five consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

For more information, call 888-369-2427