Head And Neck Cancer Worsens With Bad Lifestyle

Head and neck cancer is a small term which encompasses different types of cancers. The name of the cancer depends on the place of its origin. Malignant tumours can develop in the region of the mouth, nose, throat, larynx and sinuses. That is why carcinoma (the most common type of head and neck cancer) begins in the cells that line all parts of the nose, mouth, and throat. Based on the area affected, the variant of cancer is identified and treated.

Some of the most common types of cancers which occur in the head and neck area of the body are-

  • Oral cavity cancer (origin- mouth),
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer (origin- upper part of the throat),
  • Oropharyngeal cancer (origin- back of the mouth cavity or the throat cavity),
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer – (origin- Lower throat, behind voice box),
  • Laryngeal cancer (origin- voice box),
  • Nasal cavity cancer (origin- behind the nose, along the roof of mouth till it reaches the throat),
  • Paranasal sinus cancer (origin-sinuses),
  • Salivary gland cancer (origin- salivary gland)

It is estimated that head and neck canceraffects about 5 lakh people in India every year. While cancer can be caused by genetic and environmental factors, head and neck cancers are also caused by lifestyle habits which include chewing tobacco products like khaini, zarda and gutkha, paan (betel leaves), smoking bidi and cigarettes, etc. It is also caused by Human papillomavirus (HPV), however, with timely vaccination it can be prevented.

To diagnose the cancer,firstly doctor confirms the presence of cancer by doing biopsy and then the stage to which the cancer has progressed must be determined by PRT CT. It is also an indicator of whether the cancer has metastasized, which means spread to other organs/parts in the body. Basis this information, the doctor suggests a treatment to tackle the disease.

Surgery and radiation are generally utilised when the cancer is localised to one place. However, if it metastasises, then targeted chemotherapy drugsare used. Two of the latest developments in cancer treatment and research are the application of immuno-therapy and targeted therapy to holistically heal cancer.

Chemotherapy is meant to target rapidly dividing cells such as cancerous cells. It also, however kills rapidly dividing cells in healthy parts of the body such as the hair, bone marrow and the stomach lining, temporarily disrupting the functions of these tissues - leading to weakness, hair loss, and inability to process food.

‘Immunotherapy’ is a form of cancer treatment that works with the immune system to fight cancerous cells in the body. Immunotherapy involves ‘immune-checkpoint inhibition’ in which a class of drugs blocks proteins that prevent the immune system from automatically attacking cancer cells. This block happens when cancerous cells have evolved to evade the body’s natural immune defences. ‘Checkpoint inhibitors’ helps stimulate the immune system back into action. Some examples of such checkpoint inhibitors in the market are Nivolumab, Pembrolizumab and Cetuximab.

In case of head and neck cancers, prevention is directly linked to curbing bad habits. Tobacco has been identified as the cause of development of many head and neck cancers. It is present as chewing tobacco and in cigarettes, cigars, bidis, etc. Even passive smoking can cause head and neck cancer. Frequent use of alcohol has also been identified as the reason for development of mouth, pharynx, larynx, and oesophagus. So avoid tobacco in all forms and limit your alcohol intake to recommended quantities.

In India, the incidences of head and neck cancer are rising. If there is family history of this type of cancer, then one should show constant vigilance and regularly get preventive health checks done. At the same time, cancer causing agents like tobacco and alcohol should also be avoided. Self-control is the key to prevent the development of head and neck cancer.

Dr.Nitin Leekha
Associate Director
Department of Surgical Oncology
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