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Head and Neck Cancer

Approximately 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with cancer of the head and neck area each year.  And many of these cancers are related to tobacco and alcohol use.

Oral, head and neck cancers are among the most common, yet preventable cancers.  They include a variety of cancers in the head and neck area.  Dr. James Malone, associate professor of otolaryngology at SIU School of Medicine and a member of the Simmons Cancer Institute in Springfield, suggests some warning signs to watch for.

SOUND BITE:  TR 2  (0:16 – 0:43)  “. . . a sore in the mouth that hasn’t healed for three to four weeks, a sore throat or ear ache that hasn’t improved over several weeks.  Also, a change in voice or hoarseness that has not improved.  Other sources may include a lump in the neck, maybe increasing in size.” 

Dr. Malone says two major risk factors for head and neck cancers are tobacco and alcohol use.  And, when used together, the two substances have a synergistic effect and can greatly increase a person’s chances of getting these cancers.  Family history or previous radiation treatments to the head and neck area are also risk factors for the disease.  Malone urges individuals who are at risk to be screened and describes the screening process.

SOUND BITE:  TR 1 (4:26 – 4:53)  “The screening itself is fairly simple.  It’s painless.  It’s minimally invasive at the most and involves an examination by looking in the ears, examining the nose, looking in the mouth and then feeling or palpating the neck for a lump or a mass.” 

Several locations in Illinois offer free head and neck cancer screenings each spring.  Check with your primary care physician to find a location near you or ask for a head and neck exam during your next office visit.  You also can find information online at

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.