A diagnosis of head and neck cancer can have a significant impact on a patient’s speech, physical appearance, and ability to swallow. It affects the salivary glands, sinuses, skin of the face and scalp, tongue, tonsils, and voice box. If detected early, head and neck cancer is often curable. Take action to reduce your risk today.

1. Alcohol and tobacco use are major contributors.
Frequent and heavy alcohol consumption, especially beer or liquor, raises your risk of developing cancer in the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus. Using both alcohol and tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or smokeless tobacco) increases your risk even more. Secondhand smoke is an important risk factor, too.

2. The sexually transmitted infection, HPV, can also cause the disease.
Research shows that certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cervical and genital cancers, also increase the risk of developing head and neck cancer. If you’re sexually active, use condoms to help lower your risk of HPV.

3. Symptoms include trouble swallowing and a lasting sore throat.
Other signs to look for are a change in voice, cough, ear pain, and a lump in the mouth, neck, or throat. Though they may be caused by other conditions, check with your doctor if you show any combination of these symptoms.

4. Maintain good oral hygiene to reduce your risk.
Research shows a link between oral cancer and poor health of your teeth and gums. Brush and floss regularly, and see your dentist twice a year.

5. If you’re 45 or older, get an annual oral screening.
A diagnosis can be made by a physician or dentist inspecting the soft tissues of the head, neck, and mouth. If signs of cancer are shown, your doctor may perform a biopsy to test cells for cancer or order a CT scan, MRI, or PET scan to investigate further.

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Read more about head and neck cancer here.