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Know the Symptoms and Risks of Head and Neck Cancer

Kirian Kakarala, MD

October 07, 2019

Each year approximately 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with head and neck cancer and about 8,000 die from the disease. Celebrities like Michael Douglas and Jim Kelly, who have been treated for head and neck cancer, bring awareness to the disease, but more is needed.

We observe Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness in April as an opportunity to raise awareness about head and neck cancers that can affect the mouth, throat and salivary glands. While less common than some other cancers, head and neck cancers still cause unnecessary suffering.

Risk factors and symptoms

The traditional risk factors for head and neck cancers include smoking, tobacco chewing and alcohol consumption. However, the human papillomavirus causes an increasing number of throat cancers, especially in younger males, often without traditional risk factors like smoking.

Early detection is the key to addressing head and neck cancers. Patients with head and neck cancer can have pain in the mouth or throat and trouble swallowing. Sometimes a lump in the neck is the only sign of a cancer that does not cause any other symptoms. If you have any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor. These symptoms are not conclusive indicators of cancer and may be symptoms of another condition that needs attention.

Reduce your risk

To reduce your risk of developing head and neck cancers, stop smoking/chewing tobacco, drink less alcohol and get the HPV vaccination. Kansas and Missouri are among states with the lowest rates of HPV vaccination in the nation. This means we are missing a huge opportunity to prevent many deadly cancers. We must do better.

Why receive treatment at an NCI-designated cancer center?

Treatment for head and neck cancers includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and clinical trials. Sometimes a combination of these treatments is needed for more advanced-stage cancers.

Studies show that patients treated at National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers by an experienced, multidisciplinary team have better survival and health outcomes.

In the state of Kansas and the Kansas City metropolitan area, The University of Kansas Cancer Center is the only NCI-designated cancer center. We offer an academic, multidisciplinary head and neck cancer program. Here, our surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, nurses, nutritionists and speech and language pathologists all work closely together to treat this disease.

Request your appointment today.

To make an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, call 913-588-1227.

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