Celebrities rely on their good looks, and for some, even their distinct voices, to have a successful career. So imagine how tragic it is when some of them get one of several types of cancers in the head or neck area. One recent example is international superstar Hugh Jackman, who’s known for playing the X-Man, mutant superhero Wolverine in several blockbuster films.

Since 2013, Jackman has had six surgeries to remove cancerous growths on his nose. His latest surgery was in February 2017. Jackman is lucky that constant monitoring and care are able to catch recurrences in his cancer.

Other famous people were not so fortunate: film critic Robert Ebert, renowned psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, singer Sammy Davis, Jr., and Japanese-American actor Mako, for example, all died from types of head and neck cancers.

Head and neck cancers, as the name suggests, affect mostly the areas around and within the head and neck such as the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, salivary glands, paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.  These cancers are prevalent worldwide, with approximately half million cases per year.

Statistically, head and neck cancers are more frequently diagnosed in people between age 55-65. However, people below that age group might also get diagnosed with such cancers.

What causes head and neck cancers?

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), 75% of head and neck cancers are caused by smoking and excessive alcohol use. Other factors that increase the risk of getting head and neck cancers include:

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Exposure of head and neck to radiation
  • Sun exposure
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Regular consumption of preserved or salted foods
  • Exposure to asbestos, synthetic fibers, and wood dust

Signs and symptoms

The most common  symptoms of head and neck cancers include: a lump, swelling, or sore that does not heal; a sore throat that does not go away; hoarseness or a sudden change in voice; and difficulty or pain in swallowing.  Other possible signs and symptoms are:

  • White or red patch on the gums, tongue and lip line
  • Swelling under the chin or jawline
  • Swelling of eyes
  • Unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth
  • Unusual nosebleeds
  • Trouble in breathing and speaking
  • Unbearable head, neck and throat pain
  • Ringing in the ears or trouble hearing
  • Pain in the upper teeth

Reducing the risk

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce the risk of head and neck cancers. This means, first of all, stopping the habit of smoking tobacco, as well as refraining from consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. People who like chewing betel nut/leaf should also be warned that it is strongly linked to oral cancer.

Other preventive lifestyle habits include eating a healthy diet, with a lot of fruits and vegetables, maintaining good oral hygiene, and also wearing masks when at risk of exposure to toxic chemical and particles.

Those who observe the signs and symptoms of head and neck cancers should consult a doctor immediately. Usually, a doctor will evaluate the patient’s medical history, conduct a physical examination, and prescribe diagnostic tests. Fortunately, head and neck cancers are highly curable as long as they are detected early.

Treatment for head and neck cancers usually aims to locate the tumor, determine the cancer stage and proceed to radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgical treatment. After that, doctors may recommend dietary counseling and speech therapy.

Patients receive effective, safe, and compassionate treatment at the Cancer Care Center of ManilaMed. State-of-the art equipment, medical expertise, plus caring and friendly healthcare staff help patients feel better on their journey to recovery. Visit the ManilaMed website to know more.