April is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month, and while Wellstar’s cancer specialists are ready to help patients fight cancer, it’s always best to reduce your risk and prevent cancer from forming.
Most head and neck cancers begin in the mouth or throat. Here are a few steps you can take to keep your head and neck in top shape so you can live your healthiest life.
Cut out tobacco & alcohol
Tobacco use, including smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco such as chewing tobacco or snuff, is found to be a cause in about 85% of head and neck cancers. Also, the use of alcohol and tobacco together can be especially risky.
Inhaling anything other than a prescribed medicine, including the use of e-cigarettes and marijuana, could increase the risk as well, according to Dr. Timothy Ryan, a Wellstar Ear Nose & Throat physician.
“Abstinence from smoking any substance is always the best answer when it comes to your head and neck health,” Dr. Ryan said.
Be mindful of HPV
Dr. Ryan said HPV is one of the main risk factors for head and neck cancer.
“There’s two main risk factors for head and neck cancer that we see most commonly. One is from smoking,” he said. “That can be made worse from alcohol use. The other is actually a virus, and it’s a really well-known virus, human papillomavirus.”
About 70% of cancers in the oropharynx (which includes the tonsils, soft palate and base of the tongue) are linked to human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Seek treatment if you are showing signs of HPV.
Stay out of the sun
Ultraviolet light, such as exposure to the sun or artificial UV rays like tanning beds, is a major cause of cancer on the lips. Protect your lips by using a lip balm with sunscreen, and make sure to wear sunscreen on your face and neck when you go outside, even in colder weather.
Know the risk factors
Some jobs can also be risk factors. The construction, textile, ceramic, logging and food processing industries can cause exposure to substances like wood dust, formaldehyde, asbestos, nickel and other chemicals. That increases the risk of cancer in the nasopharynx.
And if you have been infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis and some other illnesses, you could be at higher risk. Radiation treatments to the head and neck could also be another cause. Inform your healthcare provider about your health history so they can help you take action and prevent cancer.