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Head and Neck Cancer

Overview :

Head and neck cancers involve the respiratory tract and the digestive tract; and they interfere with the functions of eating and breathing. Laryngeal cancers affect speech. Loss of any of these functions is significant. Hence, early detection and appropriate treatment of head and neck cancers is of utmost importance.

Roughly 10% of all cancers are related to the head and the neck. It is estimated that more than 55,000 Americans will develop cancer of the head and neck in 1998, and nearly 13,000 will die from the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 1998, approximately, 11,100 new cases of laryngeal cancer alone will be diagnosed and 4,300 people will die of this disease. Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the United States. Approximately 40,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and it causes at least 8,000 deaths. Among the major cancers, the survival rate for head and neck cancers is one of the poorest. Less than 50% of the patients survive five years or more after initial diagnosis. This is because the early signs of head and neck cancers are frequently ignored. Hence, when it is first diagnosed, it is often in an advanced stage and not very amenable to treatment.

The risk for both oral cancer and laryngeal cancer seems to increase with age. Most of the cases occur in individuals over 40 years of age, the average age at diagnosis being 60. While oral cancer strikes men twice as often as it does women, laryngeal cancer is four times more common in men than in women. Both diseases are more common in black Americans than among whites.

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