Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer

Apr 17, 2022 | Angie Murad, Patient Educator | @muradangie

Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week is led by the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance and supported by the American Academy of Otolaryngology. Head and neck cancers are a broad category of cancers that occur in and around the throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), tonsils, nose, sinuses, and mouth. These cancers begin when healthy cells in the areas change and grow out of control and form a mass or tumor. Cancer in cells of the mouth and throat is known as squamous cell carcinoma.

Risk Factors

Tobacco use and excessive consumption of alcohol and especially when used together are risk factors for these types of cancers. Since smoking has decreased certain types of head and neck cancers have decreased.

However, other types of cancers are on the rise. About 70% of cancers in the oropharynx, which includes the tonsils, soft palate, and base of the tongue, are linked to the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent years, there's been an ongoing rise in cases of oropharyngeal cancer linked to certain types of HPV infection in both men and women. There is no standard screening test to find these cancers early. However, many can be found early during routine exams by a dentist, doctor, dental hygienist, or by self-exam.

Advances in treatment

Years ago, these cancer diagnoses would often leave people with troubling side effects like trouble swallowing, and difficulty speaking. Today there are innovations in the areas of surgery, radiation, immunotherapy to treat and reduce side effects more effectively. Dr. Eric Moore, a Mayo Clinic Head and Neck Surgeon describes the improved treatments of head and neck cancers in this Mayo Clinic Minute: Improved treatments for head and neck cancer - Mayo Clinic News Network.

Treatment of these types of cancers depends on the type and stage of the cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preference and overall health.


According to the American Cancer Society, 4 of 5 people will get HPV at some point during their lives and approximately 31,500 men and women are diagnosed annually with cancers caused by HPV.

An HPV vaccination is available, safe and is recommended for both boys and girls at age 11 or 12. The vaccination can help prevent six types of HPV-related cancers including: cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, throat and anal. For more information, please visit the American Cancer Society website.

It's important to talk to your health care provider about the HPV vaccine, especially if you are 26 years old or younger.



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