April 12-18th of 2015 is designated as the Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week®, led by the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. Throughout the week, there are series of events to promote education and awareness. As with most other types of cancer, finding cancer at an earlier stage is key to successful treatment. We encourage you to see if there are any screening sites at a location near you.
Symptoms of Head, Neck and Oral Cancer
There are multiple signs and symptoms that can signal a possibility of cancer. If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, it is important to check with a doctor or dentist. Signs & symptoms may include:
- White or red patches in the mouth or lips
- Oral sores that do not heal
- Bleeding of the mouth or gums
- Loose teeth
- Difficulty or pain with chewing/swallowing
- Difficulty moving your tongue
- A lump in the neck
- Changes in your voice
- Persistent earache
- Numbness of the lip, chin, or jaw
- Thickening of your cheek
- Swelling or pain in your jaw
- Soreness in your throat
After undergoing cancer treatment for oral, head or neck cancer, eating and ensuring proper nutrition can be extremely difficult. Surgery and radiation treatment can leave patients with many side effects that affect their ability to chew, swallow, or talk. There may be swelling of the face and neck or numbness in parts of the neck or throat. Patients may also experience irritation and sores in the mouth, dry mouth, changes in taste, or nausea. All of these side effects make receiving adequate nutrition difficult. Consulting with an oncology dietitian (CSOs) can be very helpful and they can provide you with information and tips on how to manage these side effects. You can ask for a referral to an oncology dietitian at your cancer center or hospital or you can search to see if there are any oncology dietitians available in your area. We are also available to offer telephonic nutrition counseling 7 days a week. Remember that it is also important to report any of these side effects to your healthcare team to discuss the possible ways to deal with them.
Another possible side effect is dental decay. Seeing a dentist trained in oncology before starting your treatment can reduce the side effects associated with cancer treatment. In our recent blog post, Lauren Levi, DMD explains some of the basics on what to expect when receiving radiation to the head and neck area.