How Can I Prevent Head and Neck Cancer?

Literature Review Results

Annually, 11,000 people die from head and neck cancer, while 50,000 are diagnosed with the disease in the United States (Ridge, Mehra, Lango, & Feigenberg, 2014). In most cases, disease diagnosis reveals metastasis of the tumors, which indicates that early disease screening and detection is not common among individuals affected with it. This paper aims at discussing the exposure to the risk factors for head and neck cancer as well as the ways to prevent it.

The disease prevalence and the rate of morbidity and mortality are far worse among African Americans compared with other races in the United States. According to Ridge, Mehra, Lango, and Feigenberg (2014), African Americans with this kind of cancers often have lower survival rates than the white, Hispanic, and Asian populations. To illustrate, the average survival rate for the whites is 56%, while that for African Americans is 34%.Therefore, the African Americans are the most affected with HNSCC and have lower survival rates.

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Most people who have head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) are likely to have exposed themselves to one or more risk factors for the disease. The major risk factors for this deadly disease are tobacco and alcohol. Statistics shows that about 75% of HNSCCare linked to the use of alcohol and tobacco (Galbiatti et al., 2013). Research has revealed that smoking tobacco products such as cigarettes, pipes, and cigars increase not only head and neck cancer but also other types of tumors (Galbiatti et al., 2013). The risk increases with the number of cigarettes and the years of smoking. This lifestyle behavior increases the chance of getting lip cancer. Besides, alcohol drinking raises the probability of individuals to get throat and mouth cancer (Galbiatti et al., 2013). The higher the amount of alcohol and the years spent on drinking, the greater is the chance of getting HNSCC. Thus, it is worse if one drinks and smokes.

Low socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with a marked increase in the prevalence of HNSCC. Chu et al. (2011) claim that individuals with low SES registered the highest number of those suffering from the disease. This factor also contributes to poor survival for the patients. This may likely be linked to the poor health behaviors such as consuming harmful products and the lack of accessibility to health care services.

Furthermore, a viral infection with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) type 16 is independent in increasing the risk for cancers among individuals, especially for oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (Galbiatti et al., 2013).This infection increases the probability of getting cancer by 25% independent of other risks such as alcohol and tobacco. Transmission of the virus occurs during coitus, especially when people change their sexual habits and have multiple partners (Stewart & Wild, 2014). In most cases, HPV type 16 risks a person for cancers of the tonsils, throat, and the base of the tongue.

Signs and symptoms of HNSCC vary depending on the primary site of the tumor (Adelstein & Rodriguez, 2010). Tumors in the oral cavity and the pharynx lead to painful oral mucosaor ulcerations with difficulty in swallowing. Laryngeal cancers result in the voice changes or hoarseness. Trouble hearing or earache is typical in nasopharyngeal cancer since it arises close to the orifices of the Eustachian tube as well as the skull base. Moreover, recurrent middle ear effusions, epistaxis, and cranial nerve palsies are evident in nasopharyngeal cancer. HPV-caused HNSCC appears with cystic lymph node swelling which location is critical in identifying the primary site of the tumor. Sometimes, swelling of the jaw, recurrent headaches, and discoloration of the tongue, the lining of the mouth, and gums may suggest the presence of this disease. Moreover, cancerous tumors can metastasize to reach the lungs, bone, and liver. Once these organs are involved, symptoms may worsen, and additional clinical manifestations of the disease may vary concerning the affected body part.

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HNSCC prevention is real. Several lifestyle changes have proven to reduce the risk of developing the disease. For instance, dietary intake of vitamin A and beta-carotene containing foods and regular physical exercises lower the risk of HNSCC development (Ridge, Mehra, Lango, & Feigenberg, 2014). A diet rich in fruit and vegetables plays a critical role as these foods are rich in vitamins. Aiming to avoid the preventable risk factors for the disease reduces the chance of getting substantially. Moreover, the cessation of tobacco and alcohol use tremendously lowers the risk for this condition as these harmful lifestyles are the chief risk factors and avoiding them plays a big role in reducing the disease prevalence. Furthermore, those who quit tobacco when already having the condition can reduce the danger of developing a second tumor by 60% (Galbiatti et al., 2013). Galbiatti et al. (2013) further explain that the avoidance of unhealthy sexual behaviors such us having multiple partners that are changed from time to time helps in preventing chances of getting HPV, in turn, preventing HNSCC.

Finally, screening for the cancer is also important. People should visit doctors and dentists for screening. Although the effort of screening for the disease is not a way of preventing it, it aids in early detection before sign and symptom manifestation (National Cancer Institute, 2015). Early detection leads to early treatment, hence better outcomes.


This capstone project has identified that HNSCC is prevalent among those who take alcohol and tobacco. The biggest challenge in addressing the health issue is the lack of awareness among the most affected. For instance, Luryi et al. (2014) explained that African Americans are less likely to identify the risk factors for head and neck cancer. A paucity of awareness among the populations regarding cancer poses a challenge in reducing its prevalence and severity in the community. Although this brochure will contribute towards the creation of awareness of the community, its use will be limited to a smaller geographical area. Therefore, this project recommends a broader approach to provide knowledge about the condition of the population. Nevertheless , this project report should be circulated to the community, especially to the populations with high-risk factors for the condition. This will aid in disseminating helpful and healthy information.

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Prevalence of head and neck cancers is alarming, especially for the African Americans who are the most affected subpopulation in the United States since the majority of those with these tumors are from this race. However, these oncological conditions can be prevented because there are several known risk factors. The intake of alcohol and the use of tobacco products such as cigarette smoking are the primary causes of HNSCC in the United States. Moreover, people with HPV infections are at a high risk of developing the tumors. On the same line, individuals with low socioeconomic status are at the helm of developing the cancer. Since the causes are known, avoidance of the risk factors plays a significant role in preventing these conditions. For example, early screening helps in not only early diagnosis but also early treatment, hence providing better results. Creating awareness among the most affected subpopulations in the United Statesis the best way to combat the health challenge. This brochure will help in spreading the relevant health information. However, more scholars and appropriate institutions should implement strategies of HNSCC awareness to aid in preventing the cancers.

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