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Colorado Doctor: Cutting Out Alcohol And Tobacco Can Lower Risk Of Head And Neck Cancer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)- We may wind down with a glass of wine after work, but alcohol is a major risk factor for head and neck cancer. So are all tobacco products. In addition to that, 70% of cancers in the back of the throat are linked to HPV, according to the CDC.

Patient Receiving Medical Scan/Treatment for Head & Neck Cancer
(credit: Getty Images)

Dr. Paul Van der Sloot is a surgeon with the head and neck surgical specialty group at Swedish Medical Center. He says there are ways to prevent it.

"You know, I think those are probably the key elements to think about. Obviously, I think it's pretty common knowledge at this point that we shouldn't smoke. The combination is really a bad one. So avoiding those... that's important."

If you've already had cancer, cutting out tobacco and alcohol can keep it from returning.

But prevention with the HPV vaccine it a tool Dr. Van der Sloot recommends we all get. "Initially when [it]came out, it was primarily young, women and girls who got it. Now it's moved on that all men and women, girls and boys should be vaccinated."

Female doctor palpating patients submandibular lymph nodes
(credit: Getty Images)

Dr. Van der Sloot also suggests regular check-ups with a primary care physician and that a dentist can play a big role as well. But it's knowing the symptoms too.

"I think everything depends on site. But people having a chronically sore throat, for example, [that] doesn't go away or continues to get worse -- and we're talking over a period of two or three weeks. If you have blood in your mouth or cough up blood, that's a really important risk. As far as symptoms are concerned, some people will develop changes in their voice."

A diagnosis for HPV-related cancers is better than those that aren't related, he says.

Woman Receiving Radiation Therapy Treatments for Head & NeckCancer
(credit: Getty Images)

"Treatment can involve surgery upfront and sometimes only surgery. Also, surgery followed by radiation or even chemoradiation depending on what the pathology tells us about the tumor."



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