More than 4,500 new cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed in Australia (73% men, 26% women) each year. These cancers are of increasing concern because diagnosis often does not occur until the cancer is advanced, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recording a 70% five year survival rate. Head and neck cancer occurs when malignant tumours grow in any of the tissue in the head or neck. Types of head and neck cancer include mouth or oral cancer; salivary gland cancer; pharyngeal cancer; laryngeal cancer; and nasal cancer or paranasal sinus cancer.
WHAT IS HEAD AND NECK CANCER?
The human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease, is associated with the development of some head and neck cancers, particularly in the upper throat and back of the tongue.
Major causes include tobacco use and alcohol consumption as well as sun exposure, radiation, inhalation of asbestos or wood or nickel dust; or poor oral hygiene.
Risk factors include smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. People who smoke one pack of cigarettes a day are six times more likely than non-smokers to get cancer of the head or neck. Those who also have two or more alcoholic drinks a day increase their risk significantly.
Head and neck cancers are treated differently depending on their location and size. Surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments, are used to treat the cancer.