Feature Article

Head and neck cancer: an update

Ron Bova



Recent changes in the area of head and neck cancer include an increase in cases in young nonsmoking, nonalcohol-drinking patients caused by human papillomavirus infection, new diagnostic modalities, such as PET scanning, and new treatments, such as transoral laser and robotic surgery, intensity modulated radiation therapy and targeted molecular therapy.

Key Points

  • Around 4000 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year in Australia.
  • Well-known risk factors include smoking and excess alcohol use; human papillomavirus infection has now been identified as the major risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment improve outcomes; GPs play a crucial role in detecting most head and neck cancers in patients in the community.
  • Persistent upper aerodigestive tract symptoms, a nonhealing ulcer in the oral cavity or a persistent neck lump warrant further investigation and patient referral to an ENT, head and neck surgeon.
  • Treatment is often complex, and patients are best evaluated in multidisciplinary head and neck clinics, located in most major teaching hospitals.

    Picture credit: © Decade3d/Dollar Photo Club