A recent analysis by University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute researchers has found that in addition to recommended lung screenings, adding head and neck cancer screenings can be beneficial for early cancer detection and improved survival.
In the study, recently published in Cancer, the team analyzed a total of 3,587 people enrolled in the Pittsburgh Lung Screening Study (PLuSS), composed of current and ex-smokers older than 50 of age, to understand if these subjects had an increased probability of developing head and neck cancer, since commonly, patients who are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer, also have an increased risk of future head and neck cancer. The team found that of all the people who enrolled in the study, 71.4 of annual cases per 100,000 people would develop this type of cancer.
“When caught early, the five-year survival rate for head and neck cancer is over 83 percent,” senior author Brenda Diergaarde, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health and member of the UPCI, said in a news release. “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.”
The initial symptoms of head and neck cancer include a lump or sore in the mouth or throat, difficulty in swallowing or voice alterations. Current available forms of treatment, especially upon later stages, can often leave a patient disfigured or severely affect its capacity to talk or eat.
“Head and neck cancer is relatively rare, and screening the general population would be impractical,” co-author David O. Wilson, M.D., M.P.H., associate director of UPMC’s Lung Cancer Center, added. “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.”
Currently, Dr. Diergaarde and her team, in collaboration with otolaryngologists, are designing a national trial to assess if head and neck cancer screenings for those undergoing lung cancer scans can result in a mortality decrease.