There are more than 70,000 Americans are diagnosed with head and neck cancers each year. These cancers can affect the face, nose, sinuses, mouth, tongue, throat, larynx, salivary glands, tonsils, palate/floor of mouth, gums, lip and thyroid. Head and neck cancers, as well as their treatment, often affect swallowing, speech and hearing.
An estimated 85 percent of head and neck cancers, especially of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx and larynx, are linked to cigarette smoking and chewing tobacco. Additional risk factors include alcohol consumption, sun exposure, radiation, inhalation of asbestos or wood or nickel dust, and poor oral hygiene.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) virus, especially HPV-16, is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers, particularly cancers that involve the tonsils or the base of the tongue.
Lessen the risk:
• Quit smoking
• Avoid smokeless tobacco products
• Limit alcohol usage
• Ask your doctor if you or your child is under 26 years of age about the HPV vaccine
• Take precautions during oral sex by using condoms and dental dams
• Wear a lip balm with spf
• See the dentist regularly
Diagnosis and Symptoms:
A diagnosis of head and neck cancer is a life-changing event. An early diagnosis can help treatment to be more successful. Many people find that learning more about the details of their cancer type and treatment gives them a feeling of empowerment and helps them cope with the changes that follow a cancer diagnosis.
While there is no effective screening for head and neck cancers, dentists should include a full examination of the mouth and neck as part of routine dental check-up. The symptoms of head and neck cancers may include a lump or a sore that does not heal, a sore throat or cough that does not go away, earache, difficulty in swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice. These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions.
There are three primary therapeutic options for the treatment of head and neck cancer: surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. These treatments may be administered alone (e.g., surgery only), in combination with other therapies (e.g., chemotherapy plus radiation therapy) or in sequence (e.g., surgery followed by radiation therapy).
Cancers are treated according to the location of the primary tumor, or where the cancer started in the body. It is important to know the exact medical name of the cancer you have so you can find the right information. The treatment for sinus cancer is not the same as for oropharyngeal cancer, for example. If you are not sure what your cancer is called, you can ask your doctor or nurse to write it down for you.
Navigating the Cancer Journey
This website contains many articles about specific aspects of your cancer journey that you might find helpful.
Prepare for your cancer journey such as keeping a diary and finding a support group.
Learning About Your Diagnosis
Review information that you are given during the diagnosis of head and neck cancer, which includes the biopsy findings, disease grade, histological subtype and stage and learn how this information is likely to be used (i.e., to provide a prognosis and select a likely treatment course).
Choosing a Cancer Care Team
The best practice for the management of head and neck cancer is for the patient to collaborate with a multidisciplinary team, which includes health care professionals.
Understanding Your Treatment Plan
Ask questions and understand your treatment plan, which may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemo/radiation therapy. Side effects and complications should also be fully understood.
Life During Treatment
During your treatment, you may experience cancer-related fatigue, changes in your voice and/or changes in your ability to swallow.
Life After Treatment
During the first two years after treatment, you are likely to continue to experience treatment-related side effects such as functional challenges related to breathing, swallowing and speaking. You could pursue swallowing therapy or speech therapy.
Navigating Your Finances
Navigating finances after the diagnosis of head and neck cancer is very challenging; medical insurance and finding financial assistance from cancer organizations are options.
Your Caregiver Network
Having a caregiver network and support group can be essential during your cancer journey. Consider setting up a website with MyLifeLine.org to help you and your caregiver communicate easily with your support network and ask for help with meals, rides, and so much more.
Porter Adventist has a Head and Neck Cancer Support Group that meets the last Tuesday of the month from 6:30 p.m. -8 p.m. There is no April meeting. Next Meeting is May 30th. To register call 303-765-3883.
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