April is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month.
Researchers estimate that over 55,000 men and women will develop head and neck cancer in 2023. While not all patients with the disease have a known risk factor, there are a number of elements that can increase your chances of developing head and neck cancer, including using tobacco, drinking alcohol and being infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
The Link Between HPV and Oropharyngeal Cancer
Tennis star Martina Navratilova made headlines late last year when she revealed she had cancer of the breast and throat, the latter of which was caused by HPV. According to the CDC, about 10% of men and 3.6% of women have oral HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Most cases of HPV don’t present symptoms and can go away on their own within two years. However, HPV is believed to cause about 70% of oropharyngeal cancer, or cancer of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils – even many years after initial infection.
How To Lower Your Risk
To lower your risk for head and neck cancer, avoid smoking or using smokeless tobacco, or make a plan to quit; reduce your alcohol intake; and ask your physician if HPV vaccination is right for you. While the CDC currently recommends that children ages 11-12 be vaccinated, adults who are not yet vaccinated may also derive benefit if they have not been infected previously.
Ultraviolet light can also cause skin cancer or lip cancer, so avoid tanning beds or extended time in the sun and always protect your skin, including your lips, with sunscreen.
Know the Symptoms
If you observe a mass, ulcer or lesion in your mouth or throat, experience pain, have trouble swallowing, experience voice changes or detect swollen lymph nodes, contact your physician for an exam. Your dentist is also an important partner in protecting your oral health. Regular dental exams can help identify any changes or tissue abnormalities, so be sure to stay up to date on your dental visits.
Advances in Treatment
For patients who receive a diagnosis of head or neck cancer, treatment has advanced rapidly in recent years, with decreased need for chemotherapy and intensity of radiation treatments. White Plains Hospital’s Otolaryngology, Oncology and Radiation Oncology departments work together to provide patients comprehensive treatment, including advanced imaging and robotic-assisted precision surgery. In addition, our Speech Pathology team provides support for patients before and after head and neck cancer treatment and other procedures for optimal recovery of voice and swallowing.
Head and neck cancers are highly treatable when caught early, so don’t hesitate to contact your physician if you experience symptoms.
White Plains Hospital is pleased to host a free Head & Neck Cancer Screening Event for the community on Friday, April 28. For more information or to register, call 914-849-7520.
Dr. Craig Berzofsky is an otolaryngologist and laryngologist specializing in voice and swallowing at White Plains Hospital. To make an appointment, call 914-849-3755.