10 Facts about Head & Neck Cancers

Close up of woman grabbing her neck in pain

New Brunswick, N.J., April 1, 2024 – Head and neck cancer is the term used to describe a number of different malignant tumors that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses and mouth. Missak Haigentz, Jr., MD, chief of Thoracic and Head  Neck Medical Oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and clinical director of Oncology Integration at RWJBarnabas Health, shares 10 facts about head and neck cancers that everyone should know. 

According to the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute:

  1. Individuals aged 55 and older are typically more prone to be at risk for these types of cancer. 
  2. Head and neck cancers are more than twice as common among men as they are among women.
  3. Mouth, throat, or voice box cancer are more common than paranasal sinus cancer, nasal cavity cancer and salivary gland cancer. 
  4. The most common symptom of head and neck cancer is swelling or a sore that does not heal. Other symptoms may include difficulty breathing, jaw pain, loosening of the teeth, double vision, persistent nose bleeds or difficulty chewing or swallowing.
  5. Tobacco use is the most important risk factor for head and neck cancers. An estimated 75 percent of all head and neck cancer cases result from smoking. 
  6. Infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV) also increases a person’s risk of certain head and neck cancers. 
  7. Individuals can be proactive and self-screen by checking the neck for lumps, bumps or swelling, examining the inside of cheeks and paying attention to the skin in and around the mouth/chin for any changes or abnormalities.
  8. The majority of head and neck cancer cases are preventable with certain lifestyle modifications. To reduce the chances of developing head and neck cancer, individuals should consider eliminating tobacco use, avoid drinking alcohol and talking to a doctor about vaccines against HPV.  
  9. Although there is no standard or routine screening test for head and neck cancers, dentists may check the oral cavity for signs of cancer during a routine checkup.
  10. Head and neck cancer treatment can vary based on the type, location, and extent of the cancer. Often, the recommended approach is surgery. Other treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and immunotherapy. We believe that the best management for any patient with cancer is in a clinical trial. Participation in clinical trials is especially encouraged. 

Learn more about the Head and Neck Oncology Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health, New Jersey’s leading cancer program and only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center by visiting cinj.org/patient-care/head-and-neck-oncology-program

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