Just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just ask the more than 50,000 Americans who were diagnosed with cancers of the head and neck last year. Unfortunately, many Americans do not recognize the symptoms of these life-threatening diseases, which include cancers of the oral cavity, larynx and pharynx, and by the time they are diagnosed, for some, it’s too late.
Oral, head and neck cancers claim approximately 12,000 lives per year. However, there is hope; if diagnosed early, these cancers can be more easily treated without significant complications, and the chances of survival greatly increase.
Who should get tested?
Every adult. Tobacco and alcohol users traditionally have been considered the populations at greatest risk for these cancers. However, oral cancer cases are on the rise in younger adults who do not smoke, and recent research indicates this development is due partly to the increase of the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus, a cancer-causing infection that can be transmitted by oral sex. HPV-related oral cancers are more difficult to detect because these cancers usually occur on the back of the tongue or on the tonsils, providing even more reason to get screened regularly.
What are the potential warning signs of oral cancers?
The signs and symptoms of oral cancer often go unnoticed. However, there are a few visible signs associated with these cancers that require immediate attention, including:
- A sore in your mouth that doesn't heal or that increases in size
- Persistent pain in your mouth
- Lumps or white or red patches inside your mouth
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing or moving your tongue
- Soreness in your throat or feeling that something is caught in your throat
- Changes in your voice
- A lump in your neck
How can I get screened locally?
The Department of Otolaryngology at UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill will offer free oral cancer screenings in observance of the 15th annual Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Awareness Week (OHANCAW) on April 25, 12 from 1 - 4 p.m. in the Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) Clinic on the ground floor N.C. Neurosciences Hospital.
The screening is painless and only takes about 10 minutes. If you’ll be out-of-town on those dates, free screenings will be offered at more than 300 participating institutions worldwide as part of OHANCAW, which is scheduled for the week of April 22 - 28. Visit www.OHANCAW.com for the full list of participating sites and for more information. OHANCAW is sponsored nationally by the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance.
Why should I get screened?
If the above stats weren’t reason enough, know that the screening is quick, painless and free, and it’s right around the corner. Given the current state of the economy and rising health care costs, take advantage of the opportunity to benefit from this preventive health measure at no charge by taking 10 minutes to do something that could save your life. Early diagnosis and treatment improves outcomes and chances of survival, particularly for individuals with HPV-related oral cancers. Please contact us at (919-966-9717) to get information about attending your free oral cancer screening.