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The slow killer

Use of tobacco, lime, betel and smoking are the prominent causes of head and neck cancers

Published: 31st May 2013 10:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st May 2013 10:15 AM   |  A+A-

Did you know that cancer is the fourth biggest killer disease in India? A recent data released by the Indian Council of Medical Research says that every hour, cancer kills 50 people and at least 100 people are diagnosed with the disease.

More than 22 percent of global cancer deaths are due to use of tobacco. In India alone, tobacco-related cancers constitute 56.4 percent and 44.9 percent of cancers in males and females, respectively, according to the population-based Cancer Registries. In fact, the top five or six cancers found in men are all due to use of tobacco, be it the lung, oral cavity, larynx, esophagus or pharynx.

In addition, the theme for this year’s World Cancer Day 2013 focuses on ‘Dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer, under the tagline “Cancer - Did you know?”

* Myth 1: Cancer is just a health issue

* Myth 2: Cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries

* Myth 3: Cancer is a death sentence

* Myth 4: Cancer is my fate

Head and Neck cancer in India

Use of tobacco, lime, betel and smoking are common oral habits prevalent in India and it is these habits that are some of the prominent causes of head and neck cancers.

Here is a shocking fact - Head and Neck cancer is the third most common cancer and the sixth common cause of death in males in India. According to sources, nearly 2,85,560 Indians suffer from  head and neck cancer.

Causes of Head and Neck cancers

Tobacco and alcohol are the most important risk factors for head and neck cancers, particularly for the cancers of oral cavity, pharynx and larynx.

In fact people who use both tobacco and alcohol are more at the risk of developing head and neck cancer, when compared to those who use only tobacco or alcohol. Also, chewing betel, pan or gutka can cause head and neck cancer.

The other risk factors include:

*Cancer in oral cavity could be due to excessive exposure to sun.

* Cancer in salivary glands can occur due to radiation therapy for non-cancerous conditions or cancer.

* Cancer in the nasal cavity is seen in people who are constantly exposed to certain materials such as wood or nickel dust.

Symptoms of head and neck cancer

* A sore throat that does not go away

* Difficulty in swallowing

* Change or hoarseness in the voice

* Red or white patch in the mouth

* Lump, bump, or mass in the head or neck area (with or without pain)

* Foul mouth odor not explained by hygiene

*Trouble while breathing or speaking

* Persistent headaches

* Ringing of ears or trouble in hearing

* Frequent nose bleeds and/or unusual nasal discharge

* Numbness or weakness of a body part in the head and neck region

* Pain or difficulty in chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaws or tongue

The above mentioned symptoms can be signs of less serious conditions. However, it is advisable to consult your doctor if the symptoms persist.

Diagnosis of head and neck cancer

Your doctor will evaluate your medical history, perform a physical examination and may order certain diagnostic tests. Examining a sample of the tissue is necessary to confirm the presence of cancer.

We know what your next question is: Are there any screening tests for head and neck cancer? No, there are no particular tests, apart from the regular physical examination. So, make sure you go in for your yearly check-ups without fail, especially if you are a user of tobacco and or not alcohol addict. If your doctor/dentist notices any sores, you may be asked to go in for further tests right away.

Treatment of head and neck cancer

Treatment for head and neck cancer is different for each individual. It mostly depends upon:

* Location of the tumor

* Stage of the cancer

* Person’s age and general health

Dr V P Gangadharan,Sr Consultant & HOD Lakeshore Hospital



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