What is cancer?
Cancers are a group of diseases associated with abnormal growth of cells. Without any check, the disease may keep on progressing ultimately leading to pre-mature death.
Who can get cancer?
Irrespective of the person’s ethnicity, socio-economic status and geographic location anyone can get cancer.
What is a neoplasm, tumour and cancer?
Neoplasm or tumour is essentially the same thing, it is an abnormal mass of tissue growing in an uncoordinated way and persisting even when the stimuli responsible for growth has been removed. A tumor is said to be benign when its characteristics are considered relatively harmless suggesting that it wouldn’t spread to near-by or distant areas. Malignant tumors are collectively referred to as cancers, derived from the Latin word for crab, because they involve the tissues in a manner similar to a crab. Malignant tumor can invade and destroy adjacent structures and spread to distant sites (metastasize).
What are the signs of head and neck cancer?
- White or red patch in mouth
- Non-healing ulcer/growth in mouth
- Lump/swelling in face
- Lump in neck
- Change in voice
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Difficulty in breathing
What are the predisposing factors for head and neck cancers?
- Tobacco chewing
- Pan masala/Gutkha chewing
- Areca nut/supari chewing
- Smoking cigarettes/bidi/hukah
- Ill-fitting dentures/sharp tooth
- Prior radiation
How common are head and neck cancers?
They are 6th most common cancers in the World and are amongst the commonest cancers in India
They constitutes more than a third of the total cancer burden in India and are responsible for over 8 lakh cases and 4 lakh deaths
What to do if there is suspicion of having a head & neck cancer?
In case of any such doubt, one should present them to a trained Head & Neck cancer surgeon. The patient will undergo a thorough clinical examination of the head and neck region. A fibreoptic laryngoscopy/nasendoscopy may also be needed.
Clinical examination is supplemented with radiologic imaging. This may include X-ray, Ultrasonography, CT scan, MRI scan or PET scan as clinically applicable. They help in better evaluation of the lesion, its extent and presence of loco-regional or distant metastasis.
Along-with that, a small part of the lesion is biopsied and sent for histopathological examination by a Pathologist (under a microscope). If required aspiration from the lesion is sent for cytological examination. In both these tests, microscope and some special stains are used to assess the presence of and type of cancer cells.
Does cancer spread after biopsy?
This is a common misconception and not true at all.
Are cancers treatable?
Majority of cancers, if detected timely, are treatable.
How are cancers treated?
Depending on the site and the stage of cancer, either of these treatment modalities alone or in combination may used-
- Surgery – refers to removal of the tumour along with wide margins around it. The neck nodes may also be removed along with the primary lesion. Depending on the defect created, further reconstruction may be required.
- Radiotherapy- ionizing radiation is used for killing the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy- a wide range of drugs may be used to treat and kill the cancer cells.
Can cancer patients survive?
With proper treatment, even patients with advanced disease may also have a reasonable survival.