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Zachary P. VandeGriend, M.D.

Zachary P. VandeGriend, M.D.

QUESTION: What are the risk factors for oral, head and neck cancers?

Head and neck cancers are those that develop in the throat, larynx, mouth, salivary glands, nose or sinuses. These cancers are formed when healthy cells in these areas change and grow out of control, and essentially affect the parts of the body that are responsible for speech, swallowing and communication.

Many of the tumors start in the flat squamous cells that form the surface layer of tissue in the head and neck. Head and neck cancers account for 4 percent of all cancers in the United States, and are twice as common in men as they are in women. It is important to know the causes, prevention methods and treatment options for head and neck cancers.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the two most important risk factors for head and neck cancer are alcohol and tobacco use. This includes chewing tobacco. At least 75 percent of head and neck cancers are caused by alcohol and tobacco use.

People who routinely drink alcohol, use tobacco or have used tobacco in the past should receive a general health screening at least once a year. Your doctor will examine your nose, throat and mouth for abnormalities and will feel for lumps in the neck. You should also receive regular dental examinations, as dentists are now examining for signs of cancers of the head and neck.

Human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16, is an infection that puts individuals at risk for some types of head and neck cancers as well. The number of HPV infection related cancers is increasing.

Avoiding oral HPV infection may reduce the risk of developing cancers of the head and neck. Receiving the HPV vaccine is a good start to preventing these types of cancers.

Other risk factors include consumption of preserved or salted foods during childhood, poor oral hygiene and health and exposure to wood dust, asbestos, synthetic fibers, nickel dust or formaldehyde.

Treatment for head and neck cancer typically includes a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Immunotherapy is another treatment option. The treatment will depend on the type and stage of cancer, the patient’s preference and overall health and the effect of the treatment on the patient’s quality of life. New treatments involving minimally invasive surgical techniques are evolving. The acute and chronic side effects of nonsurgical treatments experienced by patients have led surgeons to explore this technique to remove cancer while minimizing short- and long-term consequences.

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Mission Hope Cancer Center is dedicated to meeting the needs of oral head and neck cancer patients. A support group meets monthly and is facilitated by Aundie Werner, speech and language pathologist. For more information, call 739-3185.

Join us April 25 at the Cancer Center, Conference Room, 1325 E. Church St., in Santa Maria, for an interactive session with Dr. Zach Vandergriend, a specialist in diseases and surgery of the ears, nose and throat. He will discuss risk factors, prevention and current treatment options for cancers of the head and neck. Reservations are required, so call 219-4673.

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"Your Cancer Answers" is a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program. Have a question? Email it to mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org.

Dr. Zachary VandeGriend is board-certified in otolaryngology and neck surgery. He has extensive expertise in facial plastic surgery, as well as nasal and sinus disease. He can be reached at 614-9250.

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