- What are cancers of Head and Neck?
Cancers that are known collectively as head and neck cancers usually begin in the squamous cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck (for example, inside the mouth, the nose, and the throat). Head and Neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world and India constitutes 30-40 per cent of all cancers seen among men mainly in their productive age group.
- What are the causes of Head and Neck Cancer?
The most common causes are consumption of tobacco and alcohol. Smokeless tobacco, such as gutka or paan, is a major issue in India. These agents, when taken together,increase the person’s cancer risk by eight or 10 times, accounting for 90 percent of oral cancers and 80 percent of throat cancers in our population. We are the “mouth cancer capital of world” owing to this habit. Alcohol often taken together with cigarette increase the cancer risks by 38 times. Apart from these common causes other causes like poor oral and dental hygiene, loose dentures and some viruses (Ebstien-Barr andHuman Papilloma) are also known to cause this cancer.
- What are the symptoms of Head and Neck Cancers?
The symptoms depend on the site where this cancer develops. This cancer usually presents with a non-healing mouth ulcer, white or red patch, reduced mouth opening, difficulty in swallowing or neck swelling. All these symptoms if persist for more than two weeks need to be evaluated.
- How are head and neck cancers diagnosed?
A thorough physical examination combined with imaging studies (CT, MRI or PET CT scan) and biopsy is mandatory for diagnosing these cancers. Based on these findings the disease can be properly staged and treatment planned accordingly. Early diagnosis by biopsy can lead to better cure rates.
- How are head and neck cancers treated?
The treatment plan for an individual patient depends on a number of factors, including the exact location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, and the person’s age and general health. Treatment for head and neck cancer can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of treatments. Early stage (1 and 2)patients have a 60% to 95% chance of cure with local treatment alone (surgery or radiotherapy), but patients with more advanced (Stage 3 & 4) disease need a more aggressive treatment (Surgery with chemo radiation) and have a greater than 50% risk of recurrence or development of disease spread throughout the body. Therefore it is very important that the disease is picked up early and patients should avoid delay in treatment. Many patients fear of the change in appearance or speech and delay treatment by taking different indigenous drugs and present to us in an advanced stage. But in the present era with the availability of microvascular surgery and Image Guided Radio therapy (IMRT,IGRT), excellent cosmesis and functional rehabilitation of patients can be offered. Thus majority of head neck cancer patients today have a good quality of life after treatment.
- How can I reduce my risk of developing head and neck cancers?The most important point which needs to be understood by our population is that this cancer is “preventable”. There are several policy measures of tobacco control being implemented at the national and international level to fight the battle against tobacco. However, these efforts may not directly benefit the current tobacco user as nicotine in tobacco is very addictive, making quitting difficult. It’s the will power of the person himself which plays an important role in quitting tobacco. It’s basically the first three days that the person has a severe craving for smoking/chewing, if he is able to control his mind for this period the chances of quitting the habit increase by 80%.