Head and neck cancer includes a number of different malignant cancers that develop in or around the throat, larynx (voice box), nose, sinuses and mouth.
Globally, head and neck cancer is the seventh most common type of cancer with an estimated 400,000-600,000 diagnoses every year. Head and neck cancers account for about 3 percent of all cancers in the United States. Men are diagnosed with head and neck cancers nearly twice as often as women. These cancers are more likely to be diagnosed in people over age 50.
- Alcohol and Tobacco Use: Alcohol and all tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco) are the two lifestyle factors that contribute most to the risk of head and neck cancer. At least 75 percent of head and neck cancers are caused by alcohol and tobacco use. Individuals who use both tobacco and alcohol are at a much greater risk for developing these cancers than those who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: Infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV-16 or 18, is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers.
- Ultraviolet (UV) Light Exposure: UV light exposure, such as exposure to the sun or artificial UV rays like tanning beds, is a major cause of skin cancers including melanoma on the head and neck.
- Other risk factors include previous radiation exposure; poor oral and dental hygiene; occupational exposure to asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes, and certain chemicals; and a history of “mono” infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
Signs and Symptoms of head and neck cancer include:
- A lump in the neck
- A sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal or that increases in size
- Persistent mouth or throat pain
- Lumps or white or red patches inside the mouth
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue
- Throat soreness or the feeling that something is caught in the throat
- Changes in voice or speech
- Persistent and recurrent nosebleed
Recent advances in understanding the role of Human Papilloma Virus in head and neck cancers and breakthrough advances in treatment with precision medicines that help the immune system recognize and attack cancer.
PD-1 is a protein that inhibits certain types of immune responses. Drugs that block PD-1 enhance the ability of the immune system to fight cancer. Keytruda and Opdivo are both PD-1 inhibitors that work by blocking PD-1 and have demonstrated impressive activity in the treatment of head and neck cancers. Keep current with advances in treatment here.