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Head, Neck and Oral Cancer: What You Should Know
You likely hear quite a bit about breast cancer, prostate cancer and skin caner. But head, neck and oral cancer? Not so much.
Robert Steckler, M.D., a surgical oncologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano, answers a few questions to put you in the know.
Q: How common is head, neck and oral cancer?
A: “It’s not a common disease,” Dr. Steckler says. “In fact, it accounts for only about 5 percent of human malignancies.” Also, he points out, this group of cancers does not include thyroid cancer.
Q: What causes these cancers?
A: “Early on in my practice, virtually everyone we saw with oral cancer was a smoker and/or a drinker,” he explains. “Now, I see more and more people with fewer risk factors.”
Research shows human papillomavirus (HPV) is associated with oral cancer, but a true cause and effect hasn’t been determined. “We don’t know what causes this,” Dr. Steckler says.
Q: What symptoms should you look for?
A: Symptoms include a sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal; a lump in the neck; difficulty swallowing, speaking or breathing; and a change in the voice, Dr. Steckler says. “All of these symptoms are more likely to be associated with other things,” he notes. “But it’s wise to see a doctor and get an accurate diagnosis.”
Q: Is it treatable?
A: “This is a disease that is amenable to cure when discovered early,” he says. “That’s one of the big tragedies. This is an area that is easily examined by the patient, by the physician, by the dentist … yet we still see advanced disease.”
Treatment options include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
“And today, with our reconstructive capabilities and modifications in radiation therapy, there is less risk for cosmetic and functional deficits after treatment,” Dr. Steckler notes. “People are typically able to resume their normal lives.”
The most important thing, he says, is to see an experienced physician.
“This disease should not be treated by someone who sees this once in a while,” he says. “It requires many different people from many different disciplines working together.”
To find a physician on the Baylor Plano medical staff who can help evaluate your risk factors, symptoms or treatment options, search our online directory.
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