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April is Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Month

April is Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Month

This month marks National Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month.

And while head and neck cancer accounts for 4% of all cancers in the United States, that percentage adds up to 65,410 people every year. Alcohol and tobacco use are major risk factors, as well as cancer-causing types of the human papillomavirus (HPV).

The good news? Cancer of the head and neck is often preventable, and if diagnosed early enough, usually curable. There are many signs of hope as treatments have advanced.

Proton therapy is a very promising treatment option for those with select head and neck cancers. Protons are controlled with greater precision than X-rays. This means that with proton therapy, more energy goes into destroying the tumor and less radiation is delivered to surrounding tissue. This is critical for treating smaller and selectively located head and neck tumors while providing an opportunity to protect the delicate organs. 

Proton therapy has been shown to reduce damage to eyes, optic nerves, vocal cords, salivary glands, swallowing structures and other surrounding organs. This also reduces the likelihood of serious side effects including blindness, hearing deterioration and dry mouth. Second malignancies are also less likely with proton therapy.

In addition to greater protection and fewer side effects, our medical physics and dosimetry teams have teamed up with our radiation oncologists to develop a 3-4 field treatment technique using pencil beam scanning. This new technique enables us to treat complicated head and neck cancers with multiple dose levels and bi-lateral neck involvement.

The head and neck tract tumors most appropriate for proton therapy include base of skull tumors, Sino (nasal cancers), cancers located near the eyes, small/early oropharyngeal cancers (tonsils, tongue base) and select salivary gland tumors, to name a few.

Here at the SCCA, we are proud to offer a dedicated Head and Neck Cancer Program. To learn more, visit www.sccaprotontherapy.com/cancers-treated/head-neck-cancers.