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Head And Neck Cancer

Written and reviewed by
Fellowship (Head & Neck Surgical Oncology), MS - ENT, MBBS
Oncologist, Gurgaon  •  18years experience
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Causes and symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer

My name is Dr. Manish Julaha and I practice Head & Neck Oncosurgery. Today I'll tell you some facts about Head and Neck cancer how to predict them early. So in India approxiately 1.2 million cancer patients are detected every year, and out of this one thirds of the number occur in head and neck, mainly oral cavity and throat. And this is a very big number if you compare with rest of the countries because head and neck cancer they account for less than 10% in western countries and less than 4% in U.S. So what is the cause of such high number of head and neck cancers in India. It is mainly the use of tobacco and another sad fact about head and neck cancer in India is that majority of the patients, you can say more than 65% are present in stage 3 or stage 4. And we say cancer is curable if it is detected early and when patients presents to us in such late stages it effects all the paramaeters like overall survival, treatment outcome, side effects, functional outcome, quality of life everything is affected. And when patients come in early stage, the treatment is less invasive with less side effects and the functional outcome is very good and the chances of recurrence is very less.

So what can we do to detect head and neck cancer at the earliest. We can do this if we've the knowledge of the signs and symptoms which hint towards the head and neck cancer and by doing self examination. So what are the early signs and symptoms. They're mainly any ulcer in the oral cavity which dosen't heal in three weaks or any lump in the lung or oral cavity, any red or white patches in the oral cavity, or there maybe unexplained earache or nasal blockage, mainly on one side, specially with blood stained mucous discharge, ill fitting of denture because of any swelling in the gums. So, these are the early signs and symptoms. If we find any such thing we should take expert opinion. And by doing self examination we can detect head and neck cancer at the earliest. I would say all those people who're at a high risk of getting head and neck cancer they should do the self examination at least once a month. So who're the people who're at high risk of getting head and neck cancer. Most importantly those who use tobacco in any form, then elderly people above the age of 45 and people who have exposure to ionizing radiation in past, and people who have had head and neck cancer in the past they're at high risk of getting a second cancer so they should also be very careful.

Now, how to do this self examination. It is very simple, to do this you've to stand in front of the mirror and you've to feel both the lips, upper lips and lower lips, using your thumb and index finger feel both the lips and by pulling them outward you've to see the inner lining of the upper lip and lower lip and also you have to look at the upper gums and lower gums. And using your thumb and index finger pull your cheek and look at the inner lining of your cheek on both sides and look for any ulcer or lump or any red or white patches. Now just open your mouth and say "aaa" and while saying "aaa" just look at the throat and also at the roof of the mouth. Then by touching your tongue on the back of upper teeth have a look at the under surface of the tongue and the floor of mouth. Then pull your tongue outward and look at it's upper surface, by moving the sideways look at the sides also. Again look for any ulcer or lumps or any red or white patches and you have to examine your neck also. Just by standing straight palpate below the jaw bone and above the collar bones, and by moving the head backwards look for any asymmetry of the neck, if there is any fullness on one side as compared to the other side, there maybe some lump. If you find any such thing just take expert opinion.

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