With estimates suggesting that over 4,900 Australians were diagnosed with a head or neck cancer last year, we're encouraging Australians, particularly men, to become aware of the symptoms and risk factors, including tobacco, alcohol and the human papilloma virus (HPV).
We've teamed up with Beyond Five to raise awareness of this complex set of cancers that can affect a person's mouth, tongue, salivary glands, throat or tonsils.
Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Aranda, said that head and neck cancer can affect a person's identity like no other but given the lower profile of head and neck cancers, many Australians are diagnosed late, increasing the need for life-changing surgery and/or radiation therapy.
"Symptoms vary but may include a lump or sore that does not heal, swelling, bleeding, trouble speaking, pain or numbness, a hoarse voice, trouble breathing or difficulty chewing or swallowing. If you do develop these symptoms you should get them checked out by your doctor without delay.
"Head and neck cancers are three times more common in men and males make up around 70 percent of those diagnosed each year, so it's particularly important that our male population be aware of the signs and symptoms and act quickly if they notice something unusual."
Dr Puma Sundaresan, Radiation Oncologist and Director of Beyond Five, Australia's only dedicated head and neck cancer charity, said that Australians also seemed to have generally low awareness of the causes of head and neck cancers.
"The majority of preventable head and neck cancer cases are caused by tobacco and alcohol. Other risk factors include poor nutrition and oral hygiene.
"However, many Australians may not be aware that some types of head and neck cancer are caused by the common human papilloma virus, so even if you don't smoke or drink to excess, you could be at risk.
"HPV is the cause of around 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers, which occur in the tonsils and base of tongue. It is estimated 700 Australians will be diagnosed with an oropharyngeal cancer this year, and around 490 of these cases will have been caused by HPV. The proportion of oropharyngeal cancers linked to HPV is increasing," said Dr Sundaresan.
Teenage boys and girls in Australia are currently offered the HPV vaccine in high school, to help protect against a range of HPV-related cancers.
Professor Aranda said that it's hoped that Australia's HPV vaccination program would help reduce the number of HPV-related cancer cases in the future.
"The HPV vaccination is well known for its role in helping reduce the impact of cervical cancer, but Australians might not realise it has potential benefits for helping protect against other cancer types, including throat cancers, as well. Currently 76 per cent of teenagers have received the full vaccination dose, if we can increase these numbers we will see even greater benefits.
"Unlike cervical screening, there is no evidence-based screening method for HPV-related head and neck cancers, so all Australians, particularly men, should be aware of the symptoms of head and neck cancers.
For those affected, it's important to remember support is available. Our WA based Cancer Nurses are available to talk on 13 11 20 or to learn more about head and neck cancer visit beyondfive.org.au.