Q: I have heard head and neck cancer are on the rise. Who should be screened for this type of cancer?
A: . In short, everyone. An oral cavity and upper oropharyngeal exam are standard aspects of annual medical wellness and dental examinations. Historically, older adults, and particularly those who used smoked or smokeless tobacco products, and/or who drink alcohol to excess, were most commonly diagnosed with mouth and throat cancers. However, over the past decade, there has been a significant rise in younger patients with minimal or no history of tobacco or alcohol use. These have been identified as associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus to which most adults have been exposed; however, only a small amount of people develop cancer from HPV. There is no current recommendation to screen for HPV.
Head and neck cancers start in the tissues and organs of the head and neck. They include cancers of the larynx (voice box, or “throat”), lips, mouth, nose, and salivary glands. Most head and neck cancers begin in the squamous cells, which are cells that line moist surfaces such as those inside the head and neck.
Screenings consist of a dentist or doctor visually examining your head, neck and mouth to look for any masses, lesions or swelling. They’ll compare both sides of your neck for enlargement, while feeling your lymph nodes. They’ll also check your voice, as progressive hoarseness or other voice change may be a sign of a tumor. For questions, please contact your healthcare provider for more information.