Head and neck cancer is one of the fastest growing of any cancer type. It is now the sixth most common type of cancer in the UK with 14,000 people diagnosed each year in the UK. Oral cancer is the most common type with cases up by over 90% since the 1970, which is affecting more and more young people due to the rise of the HPV virus.
There are more than 30 types overall and they often cause problems with eating, speaking or swallowing. Around 80-90% can cured with early of surgery and/or radiotherapy however as with all cancers though, early detection and diagnosis is vital. The challenges don’t stop with the treatment though as depending on the type of cancer and treatment given, there can be truly debilitating side-effects; facial disfigurement, difficulties with eating, drinking, speech and hearing are the most common. Oracle Cancer Trust aims to find more, kinder treatments that eradicate these cancers while minimising damage to the important and delicate organs in this small area.
Oracle Cancer Trust has invested £5 million over the past decade in research to improve both the effectiveness and long-term effects of these treatments. We want more, kinder treatment options. For example, xerostomia or dry mouth is a common, serious side effect that causes huge distress after cancer treatment has been completed. It can cause pain or a burning sensation in the mouth or on the tongue, difficulty chewing, tasting or swallowing and even talking. Recent treatment advances include robotic surgery, robotic radiotherapy and computer-guided radiotherapy techniques that have dramatically reduced side effects such as damage to the salivary glands. And we are thrilled that through a recent discovery funded by Oracle Cancer Trust, we have been able to ensure that 54% fewer patients suffer with dry mouth following radiotherapy treatment. We want to repeat this success with other side effects too.
Head and neck cancers are as complex as other cancers but as you might imagine, but curing the cancer is possible in most cases where they are diagnosed early. We always recommend visiting your dentist or doctor at the first sign of persistent, unexplained signs or symptoms:
Common symptoms include:
- an ulcer in the mouth that doesn’t heal within a few weeks
- difficulty swallowing, pain or discomfort when chewing or swallowing
- red or white patches in the mouth or throat that don’t go away within a few weeks
- changes to your voice e.g. hoarseness, or sounding like you have a cold
- a constant sore throat and ear pain on one side
- a swelling or lump in the face, mouth or neck
If you would like to find out more about our work, or how to spot the early symptoms of head and neck cancer, visit https://oraclecancertrust.org/