Cancer Awareness

Did You Know? A Few Facts About Head and Neck Cancer

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Cancer of the head and neck is a little known type of cancer but it affects more than 55,000 people in the U.S. each year and accounts for approximately 3 percent of all cancer cases in the country.

This type of cancer can occur in the mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), swallowing passages, nasal passages and salivary glands.

Here are some basic facts about head and neck cancer:

Who is most at risk?
While tobacco and alcohol use increase the risk for most head and neck cancers, certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) now account for more than half of all cases of oropharyngeal cancer, which affects part of the throat, base of tongue, tonsils, and soft palate (back of the mouth). Most cases occur in people over the age of 40.

Symptoms of head and neck cancer
Head and neck cancer symptoms can be vague, but warning signs include hoarseness, persistent throat and ear pain for more than four weeks. Other symptoms include mouth sores that won’t heal or a lump in the neck. If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to see your doctor.

Easy, painless screenings
Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, it could still be a good idea to get screened, especially if you might be at higher risk.

“Early detection saves lives and greatly reduces the debilitating side effects associated with this highly preventable type of cancer,” says Tamer Ghanem, M.D., Ph.D, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) and head and neck cancer surgeon at Henry Ford Health System.

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That’s why Henry Ford, along with other U.S. health systems and hospitals, hosts free head and neck cancer screenings each year during Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week in April, an effort led by The Head and Neck Cancer Alliance.

A head and neck screening generally takes about 10 minutes and includes:

  • Completing a short paper questionnaire to assess your risk for head and neck cancer
  • A private, sit-down meeting with a medical expert who will use a tongue-depressor to look inside your mouth and throat

This year, Henry Ford will offer the free screenings on Saturday, April 14 at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi from 1-5 p.m., on the lower level near Nordstrom.

“Being at Twelve Oaks Mall is not only is a tremendous opportunity to offer the community an important screening at no cost, but to raise awareness among the hundreds in attendance about head and neck cancer risks and treatment options,” adds Dr. Ghanem.

It’s a simple and painless cancer screening that could save your life.

Even if you aren’t able to make this screening event, talk to your doctor about head and neck cancer risk and make sure you are up-to-date on all the recommended cancer screenings for your age and risk factors.

To make an appointment with a Henry Ford physician, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). For information about head and neck cancer, visit  HenryFord.com/cancer.

Dr. Tamer Ghanem is the director of Head and Neck Oncology and Reconstructive Surgery Division in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital.