Cancer awareness month: Here's all you need to know about the dreaded disease

Media Release

Mangaluru, Apr 13: The month of April draws attention to many different cancers. It is a national oral, head and neck, esophageal and testicular awareness month.

Additionally April is also an alcohol awareness month. Today, cancer of oral, head and neck, esophageal are very common in the world especially in India and Mangaluru where these cancers constitute almost 60% of all cancers.

Head and neck cancers: Cancer of the head and neck start in the tissues and organs of the head and neck. In addition to the oral cavity they also include cancer of the larynx (voice box), throat, lips, nose and salivary glands. Most head and neck cancers begin in the squamous cells, which are cells that line moist surfaces such as those inside the head and neck eg the mouth, nose and throat. Salivary glands have many different types of cells that can become cancerous so there are many different types of salivary gland cancers.

From a causative perspective, chronic habits of heavy alcohol and tobacco including smokeless tobacco, sometimes called 'chewing tobacco' or 'snuff', are two most important risk factors for head and neck cancers, especially cancer of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx and larynx. Reports indicate that at least 75% of head and neck cancers are caused by the use of tobacco and alcohol and that people who use both are at greater risk of developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone. In addition to this, recent reports also indicate that infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16, is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers, particularly oropharyngeal cancers that involve tonsils or base of the tongue.

Symptoms and signs of head and neck cancer:

  • Swelling or a sore that does not heal; this is the most common symptom
  • Red or white patch in the mouth
  • Lump, bump or mass in the head or neck area, with or without pain
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Foul mouth odor not explained by hygiene
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Nasal obstruction or persistent nasal congestion
  • Frequent nose bleeds and/or unusual nasal discharge
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Double vision
  • Numbness or weakness of a body part in the head and neck region
  • Pain or difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the jaw or tongue or pain in the jaws
  • Blood in the saliva or phlegm which is mucus discharged into the mouth from respiratory passages
  • Loosening of teeth
  • Dentures that no longer fit
  • Unexplained weight loss and fatigue
  • Ear pain or infection

Esophageal cancer: Esophageal cancers are cancers arising from the food pipe that runs between the throat and the stomach. The risk factors for esophageal cancer include alcohol abuse, smoking, obesity, poor diet and nutrition and age over 55.

Symptoms and signs of head and neck cancers:

  • Difficulty swallowing – feeling that food is sticking in the throat or chest
  • Unexplained weight loss and fatigue
  • Food coming back up before reaching the stomach (regurgitation) or being sick (vomiting)
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Indigestion or heartburn that does not go away
  • A persistent cough
  • A hoarse voice – caused by pressure on the nerve that supplies the voice box
  • Dull pain or discomfort behind the breastbone or at the back.

Testicular cancer: Testicular cancer is a disease when testicular cells become abnormal (malignant) in one or both testicles - the organ responsible for producing male hormones and sperms. It is the most common cancer in 20 to 35 year old men. There are two main types, seminomas and nonseminomas. The exact cause of testicular cancer is not known but risk factors include undescended testicle(s), congenital abnormalities eg kidney, penile abnormalities and family history of testicular cancer.  Fortunately the incidences of testicular cancers are very less in India and in Mangaluru.

Symptoms and signs of testicular cancers:

  • A painless lump or swelling in a testicle
  • Pain in the testicle or scrotum
  • Discomfort in the testicle or scrotum
  • Sensation of heaviness in the scrotum
  • Dull ache in the lower back, groin or abdomen
  • Sudden accumulation of fluid in the scrotum
  • Unexplained tiredness or malaise.

April is also an alcohol awareness month and emphasis is to reduce the stigma around alcoholism, boost awareness of the problem and encourage people to talk about alcoholism and its effects in the community. Global studies have shown that chronic heavy alcohol use increases the risk of six cancers: bowel (colorectal), breast, mouth, pharynx and larynx (mouth and throat), esophageal (squamous cell carcinoma), liver and stomach. Studies by the 'World Cancer Research Association' indicate that for colorectal cancer, increased risk was observed for more than two alcoholic drinks per day; for liver and stomach cancer increased risk was observed for more than three alcoholic drinks per day; while for breast, head and neck and esophageal cancers even low levels of drinking were associated with increased risk of cancer development.

Dr Suresh Rao, director of Mangalore Institute of Oncology expressed that alcohol induced cancers are very common in this region and that moderation is to be adopted while consuming whisky, rum and brandy. His medical advice is, “If you do not drink, do not start and if you drink, do less to reduce your cancer risk."


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Title: Cancer awareness month: Here's all you need to know about the dreaded disease

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