While uncommon, cancers of the head and neck can affect some of our most important functions - eating, speaking and breathing.

Over 50,000 oral, head and neck cancer cases are diagnosed annually (American Cancer Society, 2014). Head and neck cancers typically begin in the cells that line the mucosal surfaces in the mouth, nose and throat. These cancers are most often linked to tobacco use - 85% of patients have a history of smoking; however, over the past decade, a growing number of young, non-smokers have developed oral cancer associated with the human-papilloma virus, or HPV. Today, 25 percent of oral, head and neck cancer cases might be attributable to a strain of HPV.

Oral, head and neck cancers include cancers of the following areas:

  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Voice Box
  • Skin
  • Sinuses
  • Saliva glands

Dr. Adan Rios' Story

Dr. Adan A. Rios, a medical oncologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann, suddenly saw his life’s work from a new perspective when he himself was diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Oral, Head and Neck Cancers

The signs and symptoms of oral, head and neck cancer often go unnoticed. However, there are a few visible signs associated with these cancers that require immediate attention, including:

  • A lump in your neck, cheek or mouth
  • A sore in your mouth that doesn't heal or that increases in size
  • Persistent pain in your mouth
  • White or red patches inside your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue
  • Soreness in your throat or feeling that something is caught in your throat
  • Changes in your voice

Head and Neck Cancer Risk Factors

Alcohol and Tobacco Use

The most common factors for oral, head and neck cancers are alcohol and tobacco use, including chewing tobacco.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Approximately 20 million people in the U.S. currently have HPV infection. Most sexually active people have had an HPV infection at some point in their lives, although many never know they were infected, and most people will not have any health problems related to it.

Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is a risk factor for some types of oral head and neck cancers, particularly cancer that involves the tonsils or base of the tongue. In the United States, the incidence of these cancers caused by HPV infection is increasing. HPV-related head and neck cancer occurs in people who smoke and those who do not smoke. Over the past decade, an increasing number of young, non-smokers have developed mouth and throat cancer associated with HPV.

Who Should Get Tested for Oral, Head and Neck Cancer?

Every adult should get tested for oral, head and neck cancer. Tobacco and alcohol users traditionally have been considered the populations at greatest risk for these cancers. However, throat cancer cases are on the rise in younger adults who do not smoke, and recent research indicates this development is due partly to the increase of the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus. HPV-related oral, head and neck cancers are more difficult to detect because these cancers usually occur on the back of the tongue or on the tonsils, providing even more reason to get screened regularly.

Treatment of Head and Neck Cancer in Houston

Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers provide advanced treatment for patients with throat, head and neck cancer.

Affiliated physicians, specially trained staff and nurses offer leading cancer care personalized to meet the specific needs of each patient with:

  • Laryngeal Cancer
  • Mouth & Lip Cancer
  • Throat Cancer
  • Metastatic Squamous Neck Cancer with Occult Primary

Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation

Medical problems in the mouth are common in patients who receive chemotherapy or undergo radiation therapy to the head and neck.

Because the oral cavity is at high risk of side effects, patients receiving chemotherapy to the head and neck should have their care planned by a team of doctors and specialists.

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