Early detection vital with head and neck cancer

This year, an estimated 60,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer. The survival rate is 80 percent when detected early. Yet most people are not familiar with it or even know if they are at risk.

That’s why each April is designated as Head and Neck Cancer awareness month. Jeffrey Krivit, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist with Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa Ear, Nose & Throat (PCI ENT), says PCI and the Community Cancer Center offers free screenings in April during Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week.

Head and neck cancer is a broad term that covers several different cancers that begin in the cells lining moist surfaces such as the mouth, nose and throat. More rarely it can also begin in the salivary glands.

Dr. Krivit says approximately 85 percent of head and neck cancer is related to the use of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars or pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff. Frequent and heavy alcohol consumption is another significant risk factor and alcohol and tobacco together increase the risk even more. “Alcohol is toxic to the upper digestive tract,” explains Dr. Krivit. “When it’s combined with tobacco use, the effect is increased.” He adds, “When you quit smoking, your risk begins to drop.”

Infection with cancer-causing types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) is also a risk factor, particularly for cancers that involve the tonsils or base of the tongue.

Dr. Krivit urges anyone who has been hoarse for more than two weeks to see a doctor, particularly if they are at high risk. Other warning signs can include a lump in the neck; nasal or mouth bleeding; or mouth pain that radiates to the arm.

Treatment depends on the location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, and the patient’s age and general health. “With stage one or two, treatment typically involves surgery and radiation therapy,” says Dr. Krivit. The St. Luke’s Nassif Radiation Center located in the PCI Medical Pavilion has been a plus for patients, adds Dr. Krivit. He explains, “They really like coming to one location. They can see all their physicians on the same day and get their tests and radiation therapy in one place. It means better, more coordinated care. And the outpatient pricing also makes it less expensive.” The physicians at PCI ENT are the only head and neck cancer specialists in Cedar Rapids. Says Dr. Krivit, “We treat everything between the brain and the lungs— everything in the middle is us.” In addition to head and neck cancers, the group also diagnoses and treats thyroid and parathyroid cancers. Bottom line, says Dr. Krivit: “You don’t have to leave the area to get the expertise you need.”

For more information on head and neck cancer screening, contact the Community Cancer Center at (319) 558-4876.