Guest Speak

World Head and Neck Cancer Day

~ Dr Prashant Pawar, Head & Neck Onco-Surgeon, Fortis Hospital, Mulund~

 ‘Head & Neck Cancer’ is the term used to describe a number of different cancers that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses and the mouth.  This includes Lip & Oral Cavity cancer, which is most common (mouth cancer), Orapharyngeal Cancer & Hypopharyngeal Cancer(Throat cancers), Laryngeal Cancer(Voice Box including the vocal cords), Sinonasal & Nasopharyngeal Cancer(affects the  nose, sinuses and area behind the nose called ‘nasopharynx’),  Salivary Gland Cancer etc.

World Head and Neck cancer Day

India is known as the ‘Mouth Cancer Capital of the world’; overall 57% of global Head & Neck Cancers occur in Asia, especially in India. This is due to rampant habits of using chewable tobacco in our country. Tobacco and alcohol abuse are the most important risk factors associated with progression of Head & Neck cancers. Head & Neck cancers in India account for 30% of all cancers in men and about 11-16% of all cancers in women. Over 200,000 cases of Head & Neck cancers are reported every year in India. Among them, tongue and mouth cancers contribute to more than one third (nearly 1 lakh), every year.

Head & Neck Cancers in India are emerging as a major public health problems. The Head & Neck region constitute several delicate, intricately organised structures vital for basic physiological needs, and crucial for appearance, expression and social interaction. Head & Neck cancers can cause various degrees of structural deformities and functional handicaps, depending on the site, size and patterns of disease spread, thereby compromising well-being and self-esteem of the patient.

Prognosis is good if diagnosed early (stage I & II). Because once it progresses to the advanced stage of (stage lll & lV) not only is the survival rate poor say (30-40%), but it will also affect the quality of life significantly. In India, 60% of all patients present in advanced stages as against 40% in developed countries. This is due to lack of public awareness regarding signs and symptoms of Head & Neck cancers. This day should be used to introspect, pause and reflect on Head & Neck cancer burden in India and on the positive changes we can all drive as individuals, health providers and policy makers.

Dr Prashant Pawar, Head & Neck Onco-Surgeon at Fortis Hospital, Mulund, talks about some common causes and symptoms of the cancer:


TOBACCO: Tobacco in any form – Chewable tobacco along with paan , gutkha , paan masala as well smoking cigarettes ,bidis etc is the most common cause of Head and neck cancer in india .India is world capital of Oral Cancer thanks to rampant habit of chewing tobacco . Smoking also leads to Lung cancer.

ALCOHOL: A lot has been spoken about alcohol consumption being one of the leading causes for cancer, in general. There is no particular limit that you can maintain in order to be safe from getting cancer. Our bodies convert alcohol into a toxic chemical called ‘Acetaldehyde’ which is carcinogenic. Drinking alcohol regularly can increase the risk of seven different types of cancer.

PROLONGED SUN EXPOSURE: Continuous exposure of the sun without proper use of sunscreen can be a cause of lip cancer or skin cancer of the face and neck. One should take proper precautions and use lip balms with adequate sun protection factor and use a broad spectrum sunscreen before venturing out into the sun, reapplying as needed.

ENVIRONMENTAL/OCCUPATIONAL INHALANTS: Exposure to wood dust, paint fumes, certain chemicals, Asbestos(a set of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals: Chrysotile, Crocidolite, Amosite, Anthophyllite, Tremolite, and Actinolite) etc. can cause cancer amongst people in related occupations.

VIRUSES: Exposure to viruses like Ebstein Barr Virus(EBV) and Human Papilloma Virus(HPV) etc. is known to cause Head & Neck cancer .


  • The below mentioned symptoms may differ from person to person. Sometimes the cause of the symptom may be due to another medical condition. Below are a few common symptoms for Head & Neck cancer.
  • Swelling or soreness in the throat that does not heal
  • Red or white patches inside the mouth
  • Lump, bump or mass in the head or neck area, which may sometimes cause pain
  • Foul mouth odor which cannot be explained
  • Roughness or change in voice
  • Constant nasal congestion
  • Frequent nose bleeds and/or unusual nasal discharge
  • Difficulty in breathing normally
  • Haziness in vision
  • Uncontrollable pain while chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Blood in the saliva or phlegm(which is mucus discharged into the mouth from respiratory passages)
  • Loosening of teeth
  • Dentures that no longer fit
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Continuous Fatigue


  • Do not be afraid of head and neck cancer
  • Head & Neck Cancers are potentially curable if detected early
  • Early diagnosis can be made by regular screening in high risk individuals
  • Remember that early diagnosis is half the cure, therefore do not be ignorant
  • If you have any symptoms of cancer please visit a cancer specialist immediately.
  • Lastly if you are diagnosed with cancer: It’s not the end of the world. Don’t be shy, talk about it – dealing with the issue openly will only help improve outcome
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