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Fox Chase Cancer Center Raises Awareness About Symptoms and Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancer

April 1, 2019

PHILADELPHIA (April 1, 2019) – Fox Chase Cancer Center seeks to raise awareness about symptoms and risk factors for head and neck cancer. 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.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that head and neck cancer accounts for nearly 4% of all cancers in the United States, with these cancers being more than twice as common in men as in women. While younger people can develop the disease, most individuals are older than age 50 when they are diagnosed. Researchers estimate that 14,620 deaths (10,980 men and 3,640 women) from head and neck cancer will occur this year.

Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancers

The symptoms of head and neck cancer include:

  • A painless lump or mass in the neck
  • A sore in the mouth or throat that does not go away
  • Red or white patches inside your mouth
  • Persistent pain in your mouth or throat
  • Pain when swallowing or ear pain
  • Soreness or a 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 nasal discharge

People with head and neck cancer often experience one or more signs listed above. However, sometimes people with head and neck cancer show none of these symptoms, or the cause of a symptom may be another medical condition. “I urge individuals to see a doctor if they experience any changes that last for more than two weeks,” said Miriam N. Lango, MD, associate professor and head and neck oncologic surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Head and neck cancers that are diagnosed in their early stages can be treated more effectively and with fewer long-term side effects.”

Risk Factors for Head and Neck Cancers

  • Alcohol and Tobacco Use
    Alcohol (beer, wine or liquor) and all tobacco products (including cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco, also called “snuff” or “chewing tobacco”) are two key risk factors for head and neck cancer. People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk of developing these cancers than those who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.

    “It’s essential to limit your intake of alcohol and quit smoking to lower your risk of developing cancer,” said Lango. “Even if you already smoke and no matter how long you’ve smoked, the benefits gained by stopping are significant.”
     
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection
    The Human Papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16 and 18, is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers. “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 Lango. “Patients often come to clinical attention because they noticed a new lump in the neck, after it has spread to the lymph nodes. An experienced head and neck surgeon will be able to screen for this cancer.”
     
  • 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. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that individuals limit their sun exposure, especially during the hours of 10am and 4pm (when UV light is strongest), and avoid tanning and never use tanning beds. A broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher should be used for UV protection throughout every season of the year. The ACS also recommends covering up skin with clothing when in the sun—from sunglasses, to a long-sleeved shirt, to a wide-brimmed hat.

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”).

Screening for Head and Neck Cancer

“I recommend that men and women visit a primary care doctor for an annual routine physical that includes a thorough examination of the neck, mouth and throat. I also recommend a yearly routine dental evaluation that screens signs of oral cancer,” said  Lango. “For individuals who experience symptoms of head and neck cancer, their doctor will additionally orders diagnostic tests. The exams and tests may vary depending on the symptoms.”

       

The Hospital of Fox Chase Cancer Center and its affiliates (collectively “Fox Chase Cancer Center”), a member of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment 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 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 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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