Experts talk about risk factors, new treatments for head, neck cancer

Head and neck cancer is relatively uncommon, but experts said more cases are emerging every week in the capital region.
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 10:37 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2023 at 5:27 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Head and neck cancer is relatively uncommon, but experts said more cases are emerging every week in the capital region.

April is about raising awareness.

About 70,000 new cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed around the United States every year. Dr. Daniel Nuss with Our Lady of the Lake reports five to 10 new cases a week in Baton Rouge.

Dr. Nuss is the transitional chief of cancer services at the OLOL Cancer Institute. He’s also the department head of the Head and Neck Cancer Clinic.

“Head and neck cancers involve a number of structures and if you think about all the things that are packed into the space between your shoulders and your brain,” said Dr. Nuss.

That includes your nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, lymph nodes, thyroid gland, and more.

Cancer can be easily recognized when you’re paying attention. If you have a lump or non-healing ulcer or sore in your mouth or throat, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.

“Head and neck cancers can come up at any age,” said Dr. Nuss. “They are more common after age 50. But, as I said, we are seeing them more frequently in young people.”

Smoking and alcohol is reportedly the main culprit for these cancers.

An emerging risk is the human papillomavirus or HPV. If you had this infection at a young age, your risk is higher for head and neck cancer later on in life.

Dr. Nuss and his team continue to bridge the gap for folks in the community.

“Disparities are a problem throughout our region, and there are populations who have really good easy access to healthcare,” said Dr. Nuss. “Remember that Louisiana is a rural state and, particularly in the parishes surrounding Baton Rouge, we have a lot of people who don’t have easy access or transportation.”

Routine screening is recommended for best self-protection at least once a year when you see your dentist.

There are new treatments, including more focused radiation treatments, which are less harmful and more targeted chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

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