Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness

Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness

The most common type of head and neck cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Symptoms of head and neck cancer include: a painless mass in the mouth, throat or neck; hoarse voice; difficulty swallowing; painful swallowing; coughing up blood; unintended weight loss; ear pain; ear pressure, hearing loss (due to middle ear fluid); and trouble breathing through the nose.

Head and neck cancer is more common among tobacco users, especially those who smoke.  Use of alcohol with smoking potentiates this risk.  Although smoking is on the decline in the U.S., the incidence of one type of head and neck cancer—oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma—has increased due to the human papilloma virus (HPV).  This virus is ubiquitous.  There are 150 types of HPV which cause warts on the finger, genital warts, etc.  The most aggressive types of HPV are associated with cervical cancer and head and neck cancer, especially in the oropharynx (the tonsils, base of tongue).  Historically, head and neck cancer was most commonly diagnosed among older, smoking patients.  HPV-related head and neck cancer has now shifted this trend.  We are now seeing an increasing number of younger head and neck cancer victims who do not smoke. 

A head and neck cancer screening exam can typically detect even early stage disease.  In addition to a physical exam, a “scope” exam is often recommended: flexible fiberoptic nasopharyngolaryngoscopy.  This would be offered in order to look into the back of the nose (nasopharynx), lower part of the throat (hypopharynx) and at the vocal cord region (larynx).

If you are experiencing these symptoms, please call 919-595-2000 for an evaluation by one of our ENT doctors in our Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill locations.

 By Kevin. G. Hueman, MD