Employee Benefits

On a Quest to Reduce Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

Recognizing Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, May 8-14, 2011

Oral, head and neck cancer are stealth diseases, with subtle symptoms which individuals may ignore or attribute to a virus or cold: hoarseness, a lump in the neck, a mouth sore that doesn’t heal; difficulty in chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue; persistent mouth or ear pain; or a feeling that something is caught in your throat.

Considered as the sixth most common cancer in the United States, oral, head and neck cancer strikes more than 50,000 Americans each year. It occurs primarily in the mouth, lips, throat, nasal cavity, sinuses, thyroid or salivary glands, throat or larynx (voice box).

If caught in an early stage, the disease is highly curable with an 80 to 90 percent survival rate. Unfortunately, since many people ignore the early signs of the disease, it is often in stage three or four when it is finally detected, and the five-year survival rate plummets to 50 percent. This fatal outcome is higher than for Hodgkin’s disease, malignant melanoma, cervical cancer or testicular cancer.

Research Expands Knowledge of the Disease

Understanding the disease through extensive research is vital to developing effective treatment solutions. Ameritas Group has established a $250,000 permanent endowment at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry to support research on the prevention, detection and treatment of oral cancer. According to Dr. Jeffrey Payne, associate dean for research at the College of Dentistry, dental students and professors are working to better understand how cancer cells proliferate and connect with other cells.

“Ultimately, our goal to help diagnose oral cancer in the early stages to improve the outcomes for patients and develop treatments that are more effective,” Dr. Payne explains.

Vital Statistics

For a better understanding of oral, head and neck cancer, review the following information:

  • An estimated $3.2 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on the treatment of oral, head and neck cancers
  • At least 85 percent of diagnosed cases of oral, head and neck cancer are linked to tobacco use:
    • smoking cigarettes is the major cause of most head and neck cancers
    • chewing tobacco often causes mouth cancer
    • individuals who use tobacco and alcohol together are at greater risk of the disease than those who use them alone
  • Thyroid cancer can develop in anyone:
    • family history or exposure to radiation may increase the risk for this disease
    • more common in women than in men
    • one of the least deadly cancers of the head and neck
  • In the past 10 years, an increased number of young nonsmokers have been diagnosed with human papillomavirus (HPV), a cancer-causing virus transmitted through oral sex

To lower the risk of oral, head and neck cancer, maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle and limit consumption of tobacco and alcohol. Promote early detection by scheduling regular checkups with your physician and dental professionals.

If you, or someone you know, have been diagnosed with oral, neck or throat cancer, what were the signs or symptoms? What was the treatment process? – Ken VanCleave, Ameritas Group