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Stay Aware and Get Screened: Learn About Head and Neck Cancer

Have you been examined for head and neck cancer lately? If you’re like 71 percent of Americans, this exam may have never made it on your to-do list. But since it’s Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, now is the ideal time to learn how to detect these types of cancers. To raise awareness, Orlando Health Cancer Institute will provide free screenings for head and neck cancers on Friday, April 12. These screenings will be offered at our main campus in downtown Orlando and at our new location in West Orange County so that you can get screened closer to where you live or work.

What Are Head and Neck Cancers?

Head and neck cancers refer to a wide range of cancers that may occur in the eyes, ears, nasal cavity, sinuses, thyroid glands, salivary glands, throat or voice box—basically, anything above the neck except the brain. Oral screenings are done to look for symptoms of other cancers that may have spread to the head and neck from other areas. We screen for skin cancer—a particular concern for those who live in the Sun Belt. We also look for masses that may present as lymphomas as well as endocrine-related cancers, such as thyroid cancers.

Using tobacco — either smoking or chewing — is one of the biggest risk factors in developing head and neck cancers. We also are seeing an increase in oral cancers stemming from HPV (human papillomavirus), the most common sexually transmitted disease. Heightened awareness of HPV’s role in oral cancers and better testing can lead to early detection and earlier treatment.

Head and neck cancers, not including skin and thyroid cancers, account for 3 percent of all cancers in the United States. As Americans reduce risk factors, that percentage could decrease correspondingly. And, as people become more aware of the signs of the disease, early detection could increase, providing the opportunity for early treatment and better outcomes.

Head and neck cancers, not including skin and thyroid cancers, account for 3 percent of all cancers in the United States.

Symptoms of Head and Neck Cancer

Because of the different areas cancer can occur in the head and neck, symptoms may vary, but usually include problems that last longer than several weeks, such as:

  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent neck mass
  • Ear pain
  • Nasal congestion
  • A growth in the mouth
  • Trouble swallowing

These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but if the symptoms have lingered, it’s time to get them checked out by your physician.Man getting neck checked by doctor

April’s Free Head and Neck Cancer Screening

During screenings, you’ll have a quick clinical exam, which may consist of:

  • A visual examination of your head, neck and eyes
  • A check of the cranial nerve for facial movements or facial asymmetry and visual defects
  • A look at your skin for any abnormalities
  • A quick palpitation of the neck area to ensure there are no masses or lesions
  • A check of your oral cavity and your throat to ensure there is no asymmetry or masses
  • A short questionnaire to complete regarding risk factors (i.e. history of smoking)

The screening is not intended to be diagnostic, but is an exam to look for abnormalities. Be sure to follow up with your doctor about any concerns resulting from the screening. If you’re unable to attend a free screening and want to get an exam, talk with your doctor.

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