Head and neck cancers: What you need to know

Published May 5, 2021, 12:42 PM

by Gabriela Baron

According to the National Cancer Institute, head and neck cancers include cancers in the larynx, throat, lips, mouth, and salivary glands.


Dr. Priscilla Caguioa of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncologist said tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, and infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) increase the risk of head and neck cancers.

“The most common cause of head and neck cancer, unfortunately, is smoking in 85 percent of cases,” Caguioa said in a virtual briefing on Wednesday, May 5.

“Another one probable cause is alcohol intake. Smoking and alcohol intake are the main causes of the head and neck cancer in the country,” she added.

Other risk factors include poor oral hygiene and certain workplace exposures.

Caguioa said at least 7,000 Filipinos are diagnosed with head and neck cancers each year.

Among the physical symptoms of head and neck cancers include numbness in mouth, unhealed white patches in the mouth, unexplained facial swelling, difficulty in swallowing, difficulty in breathing, sore throat that doesn’t heal, change in voice, persistent pain near the cheek or chin, lump near the neck, and chronic headache.

Caguioa underscored that early detection is the key to prevention.

“Ang pinakamagandang way para ma-prevent ang cancer, pag nakita nating may pagbabago sa atin, may mga sores na hindi gumagaling sa mouth, dapat bantayan, dapat makita agad yan ng ENT [ear, nose, and throat] doctors (The best way to prevent cancer is, when we see or feel that our body is changing, let’s say sore throats that do not heal, we should go to an ENT doctor right away),” she added.