Who’s At Risk for Head and Neck Cancer

People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk of developing certain head and neck cancers, while it is the most common risk factor, it isn’t the only one.

“Often times these cancers aren’t in people that smoke. So we kind of investigated why are these people getting these cancers? And the link was HPV,” says Dr. Tony Anfuso, a surgical head and neck oncologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Human papillomavirus – or HPV – is linked to head and neck cancer. A new study reveals that HPV raises the chances someone will get head and neck cancer by at least sevenfold. Some good news is that these HPV-linked oral cancers seem to respond better to treatment.

“As we’ve continued to study this, we’ve found these patients do get this cancer that their survival is better and treatment seems to work better in them for whatever reason,” says Dr. Anfuso.

Also new is that younger people are now getting head and neck cancers.

“Nowadays they’re 40s, some 30s, rarely less than that, but mostly 40s -50s and some 60s,” says Dr. Anfuso

Finding cancer in younger people is more of an uphill battle; they are typically healthier and less likely to seek attention for minor changes. With no clinical screening test, it’s important to give any symptoms a head’s up.

“Pain in the throat, sore throat, difficulty swallowing that does not go away after two or three weeks, pain in the ear that is unexplained, lumps in the neck; adults are not supposed to have lumps in their neck,” explains Dr. Anfuso.

Treatments for head and neck cancer include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy and many of these cancers can be cured, especially if they are found early.

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Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, FL is the largest network of medical care facilities in Southwest Florida and is highly respected for its expertise, innovation and quality of care. For nearly a century, we’ve been providing our community with everything from primary care treatment to highly specialized care services and robotic assisted surgeries.

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