Head and Neck Cancer: Symptoms and Prevention

Cancer is never a pleasant topic to consider, that’s for sure. But, when it comes to head and neck cancers, there are two encouraging factors to keep in mind: if caught early, they’re often curable, and they can be preventable with certain lifestyle changes.

 Head and neck cancers include cancer of the mouth, tonsils, throat, sinuses, ear, nasal cavity, and neck lymph nodes. Men are three times as likely to develop these cancers than women, and most people diagnosed are over the age of 50. Oral cancer is by far the most common.

 Symptoms of head and neck cancers include:

  • lump or a sore that does not heal
  • a sore throat that does not go away
  • blood in saliva or phlegm for several days
  • difficulty in swallowing
  • a change or hoarseness in the voice

 Because symptoms can start off mild, these cancers can be difficult to detect early – another reason why it’s so important to see your physician and dentist regularly. Oral cancer in particular can often be detected in a routine dental exam. A general rule of thumb is to see your doctor if any of the above symptoms persist for more than10 days.

 So how can these cancers be prevented all together? There are two simple ways – never use tobacco products, and reduce or eliminate your alcohol consumption. Seventy-five per cent of all cancerous mouth and throat tumors are related to tobacco and alcohol abuse. And heavy smokers (smoking more than two packs a day) and heavy drinkers (those drinking more than four alcoholic drinks per day) carry an even higher risk – they are seven times as likely to develop oral cancers than people who don’t drink or use tobacco products.

 Want more info? The National Institutes of Health has a great fact sheet  with more detailed information on symptoms, diagnostic techniques, and treatment.