In addition to being screened for lung cancer, heavy smokers should also be checked for head and neck cancer (HNC) to improve early detection and survival, according to a new study in the journal Cancer (January 5, 2015).

Head and neck cancer is the world’s sixth most common type of cancer. Worldwide, 600,000 people are diagnosed with it annually and about 350,000 die. In the U.S. alone, about 55,000 cases and 12,000 deaths due to HNC were estimated in 2014 (CA Cancer J Clin, January 7, 2014, Vol. 64:5, pp. 9-29).

Risk factors

The majority of head and neck cases are squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) and affect the oral cavity, pharynx, or larynx. Tobacco use and alcohol consumption are the major risk factors for HNSCC. About 75% of HNSCC cases are associated with these lifestyle factors.

Oral infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16, is an important independent risk factor for the development of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs), according to research.

Approximately 4% of HNSCC cases are due to alcohol alone, studies show, and about 25% of cases are attributed to HPV infection.

Early detection of HNC is associated with fewer deaths and improved survival. For patients diagnosed with localized disease, estimated five-year survival rates are 83% for oral cavity and pharyngeal cancer and 75% for laryngeal cancer (SEER Cancer Statistics Review, December 17, 2014). Unfortunately, the majority of new HNC cases are diagnosed after the cancer has metastasized, resulting in five-year survival rates of 61% and 37% for oral cavity and pharyngeal cancer, respectively, and 43% and 35% for laryngeal cancer (SEER Cancer Statistics Review, December 17, 2014).

Continue reading HERE.