Every year around 12,000 people in Britain are diagnosed with head and neck cancers, with Cancer Research UK saying incidence rates have increased by a third since the early 1990s. Leading head and neck cancer charity The Swallows has revealed how the number of people they’re supporting has quadrupled this year alone. There is currently a 90 percent chance a person will survive head and neck cancer if they are diagnosed early. If a person is diagnosed late, the statistics will drop as low as 40 percent. With these worrying statistics knowing the early symptoms of this disease is crucial.
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Founder and Chairman of Swallows Chris Curtis says early intervention and treatment is vital when it comes to survival and highlighting some of the common and lesser known signs and symptoms in a crucial bid to raise awareness of this disease.
Chris, who has joined forces with cancer specialists at UK Proton Therapy to issue the warning, said: “The earlier we can get people diagnosed the better the outcome.
“Despite it being the fastest growing type of cancer in the world, there’s still a lack of awareness around head and neck cancer tumours.
There are certain key symptoms you need to look out for as some of them are less well known.”
One of the key symptoms, which may not necessarily be associated with cancer, is persistently blocked ears – the type you might get after diving into a swimming pool or persistent earache.
Other signs and symptoms to look out for
Chris added: “Sore gums, ulcers and pain in your teeth, white or red patches in the mouth are also tell-tale symptoms. Most people might shrug it off and put it down to an ulcer.
“A doctor may also dismiss it and send you to the dentist. but it could well be a cancerous lesion that’s growing and it’s easy to miss.”
There are other ‘classic’ signs that trouble is in store. Chris, who himself is a throat cancer survivor, said: “A cough or sore throat that lasts more than two weeks, or if you have any voice changes or hoarseness, should ring alarm bells.
“Meanwhile tiredness is another big factor. As the tumour grows, it saps all your energy. Before I was diagnosed, I was falling asleep in my chair every night at 9pm.
“I just thought I was working too hard. You should demand a free oral screening every time you go to see your dentist.
“It takes them just 60 seconds to check you. They know what to look for in the mouth and they’ve been trained on oral screening for cancer.”
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Meanwhile The Swallows is also campaigning for all head and neck cancer patients to be treated with proton therapy if appropriate for their pathway.
Proton therapy is a pioneering type of radiotherapy that targets tumours with better precision and which reduces damage to surrounding tissue and organs compared with traditional radiotherapy, hopefully this will improve the patient outcome and experience.
Chris said: “You cannot get treatment with protons for head and neck cancer, full stop. And we want that to change and allow patients to have a choice.”
Dr Jiri Kubes is medical director at the Proton Therapy in Prague, Czech Republic – a private facility that often treats Brits who are not eligible for free proton therapy on the NHS.
Oncologist Dr Kubes said: “Incidences of head and neck cancer are increasing globally, and treatment can be problematic due to the complex nature of the tumours and their proximity to critical organs.
The aim of proton therapy, as opposed to traditional radiotherapy, is to increase the curability while reducing radiation-induced late side effects and maintaining quality of life for patients.
Healthy tissue lying in front of tumours is preserved and there is complete protection of healthy tissue behind the tumour.
It also allows for an increased dose to the tumour target volume, thereby increasing the likelihood of local disease control.”
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