Head and neck cancers: Early diagnosis is crucial, say experts


Neglecting early signs, delay in diagnosis and referral to tertiary care centres continue to pose a challenge in the treatment of oral cancer. At Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, at least 70 to 80 per cent of patients diagnosed with oral cancer present in advanced stage, doctors say.

To draw the attention of public on care and control of head and neck cancer, CMC is taking on a number of initiatives to raise awareness to mark the World Head and Neck Cancer Day that falls on July 27.

According to the Tamil Nadu Cancer Registry Project results published by the Cancer Institute, Adyar in 2015, the most common cancers that affect men are those of stomach, lung and mouth. In the mouth, the common areas of cancer are the tongue and cheek, J. Rajinikanth, associate professor, Department of General Surgery unit-I, CMC said.

He pointed out that over the past two decades, there was an alarmingly increasing pattern of mouth cancer patients presenting at an early age of less than 40 years.


“Most of these cancers, that is 90 per cent, are caused by tobacco either by smoking cigarettes/beedis or by chewing tobacco in any form including areca nut. The rest of the 10 per cent patients have no habits but the cause is often poor oral hygiene and unattended sharp tooth,” he said.

At CMC, doctors see around 25 new head and neck cancer patients in a week, he said. “Messages that smoking causes lung cancer are telecasted at the start of a movie but we should create awareness that smoking also causes mouth cancer,” Dr. Rajinikanth emphasised.

Around 70 to 80 per cent of CMC’s patients seek medical help at an advanced stage of the cancer. The early signs of oral cancer are longstanding white patch or red patch, a non-healing ulcer in the mouth for more than three weeks or a lymph gland swelling in the neck in patients, especially those who smoke or chew tobacco, aged more than 40 years.

“The primary delay is caused due to negligence by patients. Secondly, there is delayed diagnosis on the part of the primary physician/dentist. On an average, patients come to the tertiary doctor only after six months,” he said.

Keeping these factors in mind, CMC doctors are planning to reach out to students. They will be visiting various schools and colleges in Vellore this week to interact with students in the age group of 15 to 20 years and raise awareness about head and neck cancer.

Sessions on habits causing mouth cancer – smoking, chewing tobacco in any form, and consuming alcohol, awareness about early detection, sharp tooth unattended for a long time and de-addiction would be held to educate students.

Survivors meet

On July 30, Head and Neck group doctors at CMC will be conducting a cancer survivor meet on the theme “I Can We Can” for all the patients, who have been successfully treated, at the hospital premises. It will include various supportive care clinics for patients.