Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

Oral cancer is cancer that arises in the head or neck region, including the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, thyroid glands, salivary glands, throat or larynx (voice box). According to the American Cancer Society, it is the sixth most common form of cancer in the United States, with 35,300 cases diagnosed in 2008 alone.

Signs and Symptoms

Most oral cancers arise on the lips, tongue or the floor of the mouth. They also may occur inside your cheeks, on your gums or on the roof of your mouth.

Some Signs and Symptoms Include:

  • A sore in your mouth that does not heal or that increases in size
  • Persistent pain in your mouth
  • Lumps or white, red or dark patches inside your mouth
  • Thickening of your cheek
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing or moving your tongue
  • Difficulty moving your jaw, or swelling or pain in your jaw
  • Soreness in your throat or feeling that something is caught in your throat
  • Pain around your teeth, or loosening of your teeth
  • Numbness of your tongue or elsewhere in your mouth
  • Changes in your voice
  • A lump in your neck

Risk Factors

Tobacco (including smokeless tobacco) and alcohol use are the most important risk factors for oral, head and neck cancers, particularly those of the tongue, mouth, throat and voice box. 85 percent of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use. People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk for developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone. (Source: National Cancer Institute).

Anyone can develop thyroid cancers, although a family history or exposure to radiation is often a factor. Salivary gland cancers do not seem to be associated with any particular cause.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Oral Cancer

Researchers have attributed a rise in oropharyngeal cancer – cancer of the tonsil or base of the tongue – among people who are normally at low risk to an increase in human papillomavirus (HPV)-related infections, which can be transmitted by oral sex. Writing in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions concluded that potentially HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers increased in the U.S. from 1973 to 2004, perhaps as a result of changing sexual behaviors. Today, 25 percent, or almost 10,000 cases each year, might be attributable to a strain of HPV.

Mass. Eye and Ear participates annually in Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week. For information on this event, including details on free screenings, visit our events page.

(Information courtesy of www.OHANCAW.com)