What you should know about head and neck cancer
Around 80,000 cases of head and neck cancer affecting the oral cavity, buccal mucosa, lips, larynx, and the hypopharynx are reported every year in India, according to studies. The ground reality is even worse, and cancer of the oral cavity happens to be the most common form of the disease in Indian males. Head and neck cancer is considered a lifestyle disease. Underlying risk factors include smoking, use of smokeless tobacco (chewable tobacco, kimam, khaini etc.), gutkha, pan masala, pan, betel nuts (supari), alcohol, viral infections, and dietary factors. Common symptoms are painless ulcers or sores in the mouth that do not heal, masses in the neck, pain, sinus, congestion, sore tongue, white or red patches in the mouth, and so on. Head and neck cancer can be diagnosed by physical examination, direct or indirect laryngoscopy, endoscopy, biopsy, CT/PETCT/MRI scan. After some time of diagnosis, molecular testing of tumour is also advised. The treatment of head and neck cancer is multidisciplinary, and has evolved with time. It’s now curable even at an advanced stage. The mainstays of treatment for early stage disease are surgery and radiotherapy. The surgical techniques are much more advanced, cosmetically more acceptable for patients, and more organ functionpreserving. Plastic and reconstructive surgery have helped maintain normal function and patient rehabilitation. However, the risk of a second primary cancer is high. Advanced diseases are treated either by surgery with postoperative chemoradiotherapy or by definitive chemo-radiotherapy alone. In the recent years, randomised trials have confirmed the survival benefit of adding chemotherapy to radiotherapy. Cisplatin based regimens have been identified as the most active. However, this is more beneficial for younger patients. In unsuitable patients, targeted therapies have also shown good survival benefits, along with radiotherapy. The author of this article is Dr Aseem Samar, MD, DM medical oncology, TMH Mumbai; and consultant, Bhagwan Mahaveer Cancer Hospital, Jaipur.
Disclaimer: The veracity of any health claim made in the above article is the responsibility of the concerned hospital/doctor.
Dr Aseem Samar