As the name implies, head and neck cancer is a group of cancers that starts within the mouth, nose, throat, larynx, sinuses or salivary glands. Head and neck cancers are the sixth most common group of cancers in the world and oftentimes considered preventable because making certain lifestyle changes significantly lowers a person’s risk.
- An estimated 65,410 new cases of head and neck cancers will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019, with estimates of 14,620 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- Head and neck cancers account for 4% of all cancers in the U.S.
- Men are two to three times more likely than women to develop a head or neck cancer because of their greater use of tobacco and alcohol. However, head and neck cancers found in women have been rising for several years.
- The consumption of tobacco (including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco) and alcohol are the most common causes of head and neck cancers.
- Other risk factors for head and neck cancers may include poor oral hygiene, exposure to occupational inhalants (such as asbestos or wood dust), a diet low in vegetables and fruits, gastroesophageal reflux disease, infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV) or Epstein-Barr virus and a weakened immune system.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2019 and Union for International Cancer Controls’ 2014 Review on Cancer Medicines
Head and Neck Cancers Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack head and neck cancers – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
Dr. Esther Chang, who received NFCR funding for 25 years, has devoted her career to improving the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Dr. Chang and her team developed a nanoscale drug delivery system that carries anti-cancer agents (like the p53 tumor suppressor gene) directly to both primary and metastatic tumor cells. In earlier work, they found that this approach significantly enhanced a tumor’s sensitivity to chemo and radiation therapies in complex tumor models of 16 different types of cancer, including head and neck, prostate, pancreatic and breast cancer and melanoma.