Five things to know about head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancer refers to a broad range of cancers that affect the mouth, throat, thyroid gland, salivary gland and sinuses.

Cancerous tumors can also emerge on the skin of the scalp, face and neck, as well as in the deeper structures of the neck, including its muscles, nerves, lymph nodes and blood vessels.

Most head and neck cancers are highly curable with early diagnosis. Here are five additional facts about head and neck cancer.

1. Exposure to sun increases incidence

Some of the most common and most curable cancers originate from sun exposure to the skin of the scalp, face and neck. Annual skin checks can detect these cancers early, increasing chance of survival.

2. HPV vaccine can remove risk

A common form of throat cancer typically affecting middle-aged males is caused by infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). Preventive vaccination of adolescent boys is widely available and recommended. Speak with your pediatrician for more information.

3. Follow the signs

A lump in the neck, change in voice, throat pain, ear pain and difficulty swallowing are the most common symptoms of mouth, throat and thyroid cancer. If one or more of these signs or symptoms have been persistent for two or more weeks, you should see your doctor immediately.

4. Don't smoke!

You shouldn’t anyway. But quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk of getting head and neck cancer. Cigarette smoking is amongst the most common direct causes of getting mouth and throat cancer.

5. Follow the experts

Head and neck oncology is its own field of medicine. There are cancer doctors from various specialties, as well as other professionals and paraprofessionals specifically trained and dedicated to diagnose and treat patients with head and cancer as well as manage their post-treatment rehabilitation. Find a treatment team you are most comfortable with.

Douglas Frank, MD, is the director of surgical oncology of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, as well as associate chair of the Department of Otolaryngology and chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. His work has garnered several prestigious awards, including a Presidential Citation from the American Head and Neck Society, the American Society for Head and Neck Surgery Basic Science Research Award, and the American Head and Neck Society Clinical Science Research Award.