85 percent of head and neck cancer cases are due to tobacco

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Head and neck cancer produces 350,000 deaths each year in the world and 85 percent of cases are due to tobacco use, as reported by the Spanish Society of Head and Neck Surgery (SEORL-CCC), on the occasion of World Head and Neck Cancer Day celebrated this Saturday, July 27.

This scientific society has highlighted the need to make an early diagnosis in this type of tumors to improve survival, since it calculates a mortality reduction of up to 90 percent.

Every year about 10,000 new cases of head and neck cancer are detected in Spain. The most frequent types are those of the oral cavity, the incidence of which is three percent, and a progressive increase has been observed. Between 11 and 17 cases are detected per 100,000 inhabitants. Pedro Díaz de Cerio, president of the Head and Neck and Skull Base Commission, explained that “they are located, above all, in the tongue, floor of mouth, retromolar trigone, jaw and gum, maxilla and hard palate and buccal mucosa, in order of frequency ”.

Risk factors and symptoms

Tobacco and alcohol are the main risk factors for head and neck tumors. Dr. Díaz de Cerio has added that, for a few years, it has been seen that the human papillomavirus is also involved in the etiopathogenesis of these tumors.

Among the possible symptoms of this type of cancer is the presence of a lump in the neck. In most cases, these masses in the neck are benign, especially in young patients, in which they are usually inflammatory, infectious and, sometimes, malformations. However, Raimundo Gutiérrez Fonseca, general secretary of the SEORL-CCC, has indicated that “there are a number of risk factors that should cause suspicion of malignancy, such as being over 40 years old, and the consumption of tobacco and alcohol.” Other associated symptoms are change in voice, trouble swallowing, respiratory distress, bleeding from the mouth or local pain or referred to the ear.

In the case of detecting these signs, Gutiérrez Fonseca recommends that the patient go to an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon to perform a complete examination, that is, “a complete cervical examination, an evaluation of the oral cavity and pharynx, an exploration of the ears and nostrils and, above all, a complete endoscopy of the upper aerodigestive tract ”. According to this specialist, the examination sometimes allows the diagnosis of a primary tumor and, without it, other complementary ones cannot be done.


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