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Frequently Asked Questions.
Frequently Asked Questions on Head and Neck Cancer Surgery
1. What is head and neck cancer?

Head & Neck cancer refers to a group of cancers that starts within the mouth, nose, throat, larynx, sinuses, or salivary glands. The major causes of these cancers are a result of tobacco &/ alcohol addiction. Few other reasons like HPV, EBV infection, poor oral and dental hygiene, poor nutrition, and occupational exposure to chemicals play a minor role.

Cancers of the head and neck region give symptoms very early, hence can be easily diagnosed in an early stage.

An individual using tobacco or its products needs to be very vigilant as there are various pre-cancerous conditions before the development of cancer that can be diagnosed early and treated, Showing better results and avoiding fatal outcomes.

The result of treatment greatly depends on the stage at which the diagnosis is made. Early diagnosis is the key to a successful outcome.

2. Who is at risk for head and neck cancer?

Certain factors can make one person more likely to get head and neck cancer than another person. These are called risk factors. However, just because you have one or more risk factors does not mean that you have head and neck cancer. You can have many risk factors and still not develop the disease. On the other hand, you can have no risk factors and still get head and neck cancer.

Tobacco use - Smokers are more likely to get head and neck cancer than nonsmokers.
Alcohol consumption - Some reports have found people who drink alcohol heavily (2 or more drinks a day) are at an increased risk. Those who smoke and drink heavily have a greater risk than people who do not.
Gender - Head and neck cancer is 2 to 3 times more common in men than women.
Race - Some types of head and neck cancer are more common among African Americas than among white Americans.
Sun exposure - Getting too much sun without protecting your skin and lips can cause skin cancer on the lips and face, as well as skin cancer on the head and neck.
Certain infections - Some human papillomavirus (HPV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infections are linked to head and neck cancer.
Age - People older than age 40 are at increased risk for head and neck cancer.
Poor mouth care - Not taking care of the mouth and teeth may increase the risk of head and neck cancer.
Poor diet - A diet low in some vitamins and minerals might increase the risk of head and neck cancer.
Workplace exposures - People exposed to wood dust, paint fumes, asbestos, and certain chemicals appear to be at increased risk for head and neck cancer.
Weak immune system - Patients with suppressed immune systems, such as those who have undergone organ transplants, are at a higher risk for head and neck cancers.

3. What are the symptoms of head and neck cancer?

A growth or sore in the mouth
A lump in the neck
A lump or sore inside the nose that will not heal
A sore throat that does not go away
Blocked sinuses that will not clear
Chronic sinus infections
Cough or hoarseness that does not go away
Coughing up blood
Difficulty swallowing, speaking, or breathing
Frequent headache or pain around the nose, cheeks, jaws, or forehead
Frequent nosebleeds or ones that don’t stop
Muscle weakness
Numbness in the face
Pain in the ear
Swelling of the eyes or under the chin or around the jaw

These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other problems. It is imperative to seek medical attention if you experience symptoms such as these so that the problem can be diagnosed and treated promptly.

4. How is head and neck cancer diagnosed?

Head and neck cancer is often difficult to diagnose early because many people only experience mild symptoms.

That is why it is so important to see your physician and dentist regularly, especially if you are a smoker or drinker.

A physician can detect nearly three-quarters of all oral cancers during a physical examination, and dentists can discover many cancerous lesions.

Cancer of the nasal passageways or middle ear may be difficult to detect.

In addition to a thorough physical examination, your physician also uses blood tests, imaging techniques such as x-rays and magnetic resonance (MRI), tomograms, arteriograms, endoscopy, and biopsy to make an accurate diagnosis and develop the most appropriate treatment plan.

5. Can biopsy be avoided?

The biopsy is the first step in the diagnosis of cancer.

There is a myth that cancer spreads after a biopsy. However, this is false.

The doctor cannot begin treatment of cancer unless they do a biopsy.

So biopsy is a must, and it’s a simple office-based procedure.

6. Does everyone who has been diagnosed with head and neck cancer need a second opinion?

Many people with cancer get a second opinion from another doctor. There are many reasons to get a second opinion. Here are some of those reasons:

Not feeling comfortable with the treatment decision
Being diagnosed with a rare type of cancer
Having different options for how to treat the cancer
Not being able to see a cancer expert

7. How is head and neck cancer treated?

Treatment depends on the type of cancer you have, where it is, and its stage. Successful treatment for head and neck cancer often involves surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or any combination of the three.

In addition to tumor removal, other goals of successful treatment include restoration of swallowing, eating, and speaking functions.

Head and neck tumors may require plastic surgery or speech therapy for cosmetic or functional reasons.

8. What precautions are to be taken after discharge following surgery?

After surgery, the most important thing to consider is nutrition, wound care, and physical activity

Your doctor will give you planning for nutrition support. The form and consistency of the diet are guided by your doctor. A diet balanced in carbohydrates, protein, and micronutrients is vital for faster recovery.

Wound Care
Regular baths as per your doctor's advice and maintaining oral care and hygiene are essential for local wound healing.

Physical Activity
Head and neck Physiotherapy for mouth, neck, and shoulder following surgery is required to regain the strength of muscles. Mobility in and around the house is suggested to improve digestion and moral strength.

9. Do all patients need radiotherapy and chemotherapy?

The need for radiotherapy and chemotherapy largely depends on the disease/cancer type.

They are used primarily in certain cases to treat cancers of the throat, voice box, or food pipe. However, in other, they are used if needed after surgery. The main reason to use it after surgery is to control and reduce the chance of recurrence. Based on the biopsy report from your cancer surgery, your doctor will guide you as to whether you need it.

10. Are radiotherapy and chemotherapy life-threatening?

No. The treatment per se is not threatening. But based on the patient's general conditions, your doctor may explain to you the possible risk of complications and side effects of treatment.

11. Will my head and neck cancer come back?

It is one of the most common questions asked by cancer survivors. In some cases, cancer can recur or, new cancer can form years or even decades after treatment.

A goal of the OncoTeam is to help patients overcome their fears of cancer recurrence so they can live productive, fulfilling lives. Another goal is to ensure that survivors realize the importance of periodic check-ups after their last cancer treatment.

Not all cancers come back. The outcomes of your cancer depend on its aggressiveness which your doctor will explain to you based on the biopsy report. In general, cancers in the early stages tend to remain controlled, while the advanced staged cancers may recur.

12. How can head and neck cancer be prevented?

You can prevent oral cancer and various types of head and neck cancer by reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption as well as quitting tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff).

Although typically associated with lung cancer, tobacco is also the most common cause of cancerous oral lesions, and nicotine is most likely the culprit. High levels of nicotine in chewing tobacco damage the inner lining of the cheeks, giving nicotine and other toxic chemicals easy access to the bloodstream and other parts of the body. Seventy-five percent of all cancerous mouth and throat tumors are related to tobacco and alcohol use. Heavy smokers (more than two packs a day) and heavy drinkers (more than four alcoholic drinks a day) have a seven-times greater chance of developing oral cancer than nonsmokers and nondrinkers. Staying healthy requires good preventive maintenance. Part of this maintenance includes proper oral hygiene, which is an essential contributor to your overall well-being.

Maintaining good oral hygiene can be achieved by:

Reducing excessive use of alcohol
Eliminating the consumption of all tobacco products
Seeing your dentist twice a year
Consulting with your physician if a lump, sore, or discolored area does not heal within 10 to 20 days
Wearing well-fitting dentures (if you do not have your natural teeth)
Adhering to a well-balanced, nutritious diet, which includes fruits, as well as vitamins C and E
Adhering to a well-balanced, nutritious diet, which includes fruits, as well as vitamins C and E

Note: This head and neck cancer information is for educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. In no way is it intended to replace a physician's independent judgment of the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a specific patient.