A recent study led by a research team from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), in partnership with the UPMC Cancer Center, found that adding both head and neck cancer screenings to routine lung cancer screenings could improve early detection and survival rates.
This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the outcomes were published in the Cancer journal. The study makes the argument for a clinical and national trial to evaluate the effectiveness of joining head and neck screenings to lung cancer screening programs. An interesting fact is that those at higher risk for lung cancer are at higher risk for neck and head cancer as well.
The study’s author, Brenda Diergaarde, stated in a press release: “When caught early, the five-year survival rate for head and neck cancer is over 83 percent. However, the majority of cases are diagnosed later when survival rates generally shrink below 50 percent. There is a strong need to develop strategies that will result in identification of the cancer when it can still be successfully treated.”
Head and neck cancer is the 6th most frequent type of cancer, and it kills about 350,000 people each year. Tobacco and alcohol use are risk factors for developing the cancer. Symptoms can be easily confused with a cold or something that will go away: a sore or lump in the mouth or in the throat, problems in swallowing, and changes in the voice are the most frequent symptoms. When a person is treated in later stages, it can cause permanent changes in the way a person eats or talks, and can even be disfiguring.
In the Pittsburgh Lung Screening Study (PLuSS), 3,587 patients were enrolled; ex-smokers 50 years and older were included to asses whether they had higher odds for head and neck cancer.
It is believed that when it comes to the American population, fewer than 43 people in every 100,000 develop head and neck cancer per year among those 50 and older. Looking at the results regarding the PLuSS study, a 71.4 case rate occurred in every 100,000.
“Head and neck cancer is relatively rare, and screening the general population would be impractical. However, the patients at risk for lung cancer whom we would refer for the newly recommended annual screening are the same patients that our study shows also likely would benefit from regular head and neck cancer screenings. If such screening reduces mortality in these at-risk patients, that would be a convenient way to increase early detection and save lives,” explained David O. Wilson, co-author of the study.