April is observed as the Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month, with the aim is to sensitise people about malignant head and neck cancers, which spread to organs like the voice box, throat, mouth and other connected parts.
According to Dr Minish Jain, director, Medical Oncology at Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune, head and neck cancers are among the most prevalent forms of cancer accounting for more than one-sixth of the cancer patients around the world.
“As per a National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research (NCDIR) report released in 2021, in India the share is even higher, with more than 1/3rd cancer cases among men belonging to head and neck cancer,” he says.
“Spread of head and neck cancer is dependent on a range of factors including age, geography, and lifestyle. Historically, it has been found more commonly in men than women, not only because of anatomical factors but also owing to disproportionately high tobacco consumption,” he explains.
Dr Jain adds that maximum cases of this cancer are traced among people who are above 40.
1. Tobacco consumption: Tobacco consumption in various forms including chewing, smoking, snuffing is the leading cause for head and neck cancer. India has the world’s largest tobacco-consuming population. Oncologists have testified that more than 70 per cent of patients have a previous history of consuming tobacco.
2. Alcohol: The prevalence of disease in people who consume only alcohol is relatively less. But, those who consume both alcohol as well as tobacco have an extremely high risk of head and neck cancer.
3. Other factors: Poor oral hygiene, impaired immunity, insufficient nutrition, extreme exposure to sunlight, occurrence of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are other such causes.
According to the doctor, it is essential to watch out for common symptoms, especially in people who consume tobacco, alcohol. Some of them are:
– Discomfort in ear, nasal cavity
– Swelling in jaw, gums
– Recurring blood in spit
– White/red patches in tongue and gums
– Intermittent bleeding in mouth
– Difficulties in swallowing or breathing
“If detected early, head and neck cancer is curable. But, if the cancer spreads to other organs, the likelihood of survival diminishes considerably. Several treatment options are available but selection depends on age, spread of cancer, and location of the tumour. Chemotherapy, surgery, targeted therapy and immunotherapy are some of the most preferred options,” the doctor says.
According to him, immunotherapy “activates the body’s natural immunity to fight malignant cells”. “It prompts the body’s immunity to put up a natural defence against the infectious cells by either strengthening the body’s immunity or signalling to the immune system to get activated.”