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Why is Head and Neck Cancer Different?

In Australia 5,100 people are newly diagnosed each year and there are over 17,000 people living with the side effects of Head and Neck Cancer. With an ageing population and advances in diagnosis and treatment, the number of people living with Head and Neck Cancer continues to rise. 

Head and Neck Cancer is not just one type of cancer. It includes more than 10 different cancers that can affect a person’s mouth, tongue, throat, salivary glands, skin or voice box.

The treatments for Head and Neck Cancer are widely acknowledged in the cancer community to be among the toughest on patients. While 71% of people will survive Head and Neck Cancer their short- and long-term needs are complex and their ongoing quality of life is often distressingly poor.  

Treatment can leave a person unable to speak, it can leave them with devastating facial disfigurements and take away basic abilities that we all take for granted like eating, breathing, speaking, drinking and swallowing.

In the past smoking and alcohol were the most common causes of Head and Neck Cancers typically affecting areas like the mouth, throat and voice box. 

Today in Australia, however, many Head and Neck Cancers are due to other causes including the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – the same virus that causes cervical cancer and which can affect young, otherwise healthy, non-smoking men and women.

There has also been an alarming increase in the incidence of tongue cancer in young, healthy, non-smoking women. The cause is unknown

There is no screening for Head and Neck Cancer: Early detection is key.

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