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Adding Head and Neck Cancer Screenings to Lung Cancer Screenings Could Save Lives

A new study indicates that adding head and neck cancer screenings to lung cancer screenings could help with patient outcomes. Analysis conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and UPMC Cancer Center shows that head and neck cancer screenings given at the same time as a lung cancer screening may help detect early stages of cancer and with treatment, lead to higher survival rates. 
 
Dr. Brenda Diergaarde, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health and a member of UPCI said that screening the general population for head and neck cancer wouldn’t make much sense because the cancers are uncommon. But as with lung cancer, head and neck cancers are often smoking-related.
 
“Wouldn’t it be great, if they’re already coming in for lung cancer, if we right away tag along head and neck cancer screening, since they’re at the hospital anyway for their lung cancer screening.”
 
Diergaarde said their study, published in the journal Cancer involved examining the medical records of nearly 3,600 people enrolled in the Pittsburgh Lung Screening Study. Those subjects had to meet specific criteria.
 
“They all have to have 30 years of smoking history, between 55-74 years old and have to be current smokers of have quit within the past 15 years,” said Diergaarde.
 
Diergaarde said the initial screening for head and neck cancer is straightforward: Looking into the mouth and feeling the neck for abnormalities. But she said it would have to be done by a different specialist than the person administering the lung cancer screening.
 
She said the survival rate for head and neck cancer is much higher when caught early.
 
“Most of the cases are caught pretty late, when the survival rates are fairly low, like only 40 to 30 percent,” explained Diergaarde.
 
She said the next step is to have otolaryngologists sign on for a national trial in 2015 in which head and neck cancer screenings are added to lung cancer screenings to see if they do indeed reduce mortality.  
 
Fewer than 43 in 100,000 people are expected to develop head and neck cancer annually among those 50 and older, according to Pitt Health Sciences.