Head and neck cancer: prevention and early diagnosis are key – GAZ


The National Cancer Institute (Inca) warns that prevention and early diagnosis are key elements to save lives when it comes to cancer, including head and neck cancer. The notice aims to clarify the population about the necessary care to prevent the emergence or evolution of these types of tumors.

Head cancers include the oral cavity, from the lips to the salivary glands, while the neck has the part of the oropharynx plus larynx and thyroid gland. Adding all these types together, the Inca estimate for the 2020/2022 triennium is that head and neck cancers will reach 19,500 new cases per year for men and 17,140 new cases per year for women, totaling 36,640 new cases per year in the period.

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The information is provided by dentist and public health specialist Adriana Atty, from the Division of Early Detection and Support to the Organization of Networks, of the General Coordination of Prevention and Surveillance of Inca. Oropharyngeal cancer develops in tissues such as the base of the tongue, tonsils, the soft palate, and the side walls of the oropharynx.


With the exception of the thyroid, the other regions have warning signs that make it easier to identify cancers. In the oral cavity, for example, Adriana said that the most important signs are lesions that do not heal for up to 15 days. “Persistent lesions in the oral cavity are a warning sign. They need to be investigated.” The dentist made it clear that lesions that remain in the mouth for more than 15 days are not necessarily cancerous; but, in any case, they need investigation.

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Likewise, nodules in the neck have to be investigated. Other warning signs are changes in voice, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, difficulty with tongue mobility and, as a result, difficulty speaking or chewing. Adriana Atty observed that these signs get worse and when there is difficulty in chewing and swallowing, “you can say that this tumor is more evolved”.


There are important risk factors for head and neck cancer. Among them, Adriana Atty cited tobacco consumption. The same applies to electronic cigarettes. “It’s an evil. Do not use. It is a lie to say that electronic cigarettes are harmless”. Along with the hookah and conventional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco, “all these are a risk factor for cancer”, Adriana pointed out.

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Excessive consumption of alcohol along with tobacco further increases the risk of developing cancer in this region. Likewise, exposure to the sun requires protection for the lips. Especially people who work exposed to the sun should protect themselves, noted the researcher. In addition to a diet low in fruits and vegetables, another risk factor is the HPV virus. “There are subtypes that are related to head and neck cancer, mainly in the oropharynx region”, said Adriana.

“If we could eliminate these risk factors, we would be preventing, just in the oral cavity, to give you an idea, 95% of cases in men and 92% in women”, he highlighted. Therefore, according to her, it is important to disseminate, as much as possible, the risk factors and the importance of early diagnosis. Faced with the warning signs, it is very important to look for health professionals. She even highlighted the importance of dentists for the moment of early diagnosis. In the Unified Health System (SUS), treatment is carried out in establishments qualified in oncology.

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When the tumor is diagnosed early, the main treatment is surgery. The tumor is removed and the prognosis related to survival and quality of life is greater, because the patient is less mutilated. Other cancer treatments include radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Adriana stressed that in order to control head and neck cancer, it is necessary to have the population well informed, showing them that it is necessary to investigate whether or not it is cancer, reiterating the harm of smoking and consuming alcohol and also highlighting the importance of protecting yourself during oral sex.


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