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Get Smart About Head and Neck Cancer

  • Category: Cancer
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Get Smart About Head and Neck Cancer

April is National Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month. Head and neck cancers refer to a group of cancers that begin in the squamous cells in the head and neck region. This includes the voice box or larynx, nasal cavity, mouth or oral cavity, paranasal sinuses (spaces around the
nose), throat or pharynx, and occasionally salivary glands. Typically, brain, eye, esophageal, and thyroid cancers aren't considered head and neck cancers because they require different treatments.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), head and neck cancer accounts for about four percent of all cancers in the US. They predict that in 2023, an estimated 66,920 people will be diagnosed. Nationally, the incidence rate is much higher in men than women (twice as likely), and head and neck cancers are more likely to be diagnosed in people over 50. However, they can be diagnosed at much younger ages. So, what else do Frederick County residents need to know about head and neck cancers, and what are some treatment options?

Head and neck cancer risk factors

The heavy use of alcohol and tobacco are major risk factors for head and neck cancers, as are an individual's genetic composition and family history. Additionally, data shows that a rise in the human papillomavirus (HPV) contributes to the rise in cases of head and neck cancers, frequently affecting the oropharynx (the middle part of the throat, behind the mouth). Other head and neck cancer risk factors include sun exposure, radiation, inhalation of asbestos or wood or nickel dust (common through occupational exposure, and poor oral hygiene.

How can you lower your risk for head and neck cancer?

There are several ways to lower your risk for head and neck cancers:
● Quit smoking
● Stop using smokeless tobacco products
● Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
● Avoid indoor tanning
● Talk to your provider about the HPV vaccination
● Practice safe sex
● Visit the dentist regularly for checkups

Head and neck cancer symptoms

As with many forms of cancer, early detection yields the best patient results. Currently, there is no recommended screening for head and neck cancers by the United States Preventive Task Force (USPSTF). This means that it is important to learn the symptoms and get regular physical
examinations with your primary care provider.

Common symptoms of head and neck cancers can include:

● The feeling of a lump in a throat that won't go away
● Sudden and dramatic voice changes
● A mass in the mouth

However, a lump in the neck is usually the first sign, and you should speak to your primary care provider about your concerns - especially if you engage in high-risk activities like smoking or using tobacco.

Head and neck cancer diagnosis

Early detection is key to successful head and neck cancer treatment. At this time, head and neck cancers are diagnosed by clinical examinations, imaging tests, and other specialized tests. It will usually start with a physical exam where your provider will check your oral and nasal cavities, neck, throat, and tongue. They may also feel your neck, lips, gum, and cheeks for

Head and neck cancer treatment at Frederick Health

At Frederick Health, multiple options exist for treating these kinds of cancers. Our Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) practice on Thomas Johnson Drive employs a talented and expert team of ENT professionals. Yet when people think about ENT, they don't always realize that these providers can also treat cancers. This is something Dr. George Coppit, the Medical Director for Frederick Health's ENT) practice hopes to change.

"For most head and neck cancer treatments, people don't need to travel to Baltimore or DC for treatment, especially if we can catch it early," says Dr. Coppit.

Dr. Coppit and his colleague, Dr. Wayne Cardoni, are fellowship-trained head and neck cancer surgeons. They have the ability to treat most head and neck cancers, as well as oral and tongue cancers, salivary cancers, and thyroid cancers here in Frederick. They also work closely with other regional partners to develop the best cancer treatment options for residents.

While early detection yields the best patient results for head and neck cancers, Frederick Health's ENT specialists are available for the patient for follow-ups and treatments post-surgery. But as with many illnesses, the personal patient journey can vary, and surgery isn't always the right option for every patient, says Dr. Coppit.

“Everyone is a little different, and two people with the same form of cancer, depending on risk factors and other comorbidities, one person may be a candidate for surgery, and one may not. Sometimes surgical patients still need chemotherapy and or radiation,” he adds.

Learn more about ENT care at Frederick Health.