April is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month

Join with the AACR to find better ways to prevent and treat head and neck cancers

Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month

Head and neck cancer is a group of cancers that usually begin in the squamous cells that line the mucosal surfaces inside the mouth, nose, throat, and occasionally the salivary glands. These squamous cell cancers are often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. 

Head and neck cancers account for nearly 4 percent of all cancers in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Including cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx, the NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program estimates that about 66,920 cases of head and neck cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2023, and about 15,400 people will die from these diseases.

Head and neck cancer is more common among men than women. These cancers are also diagnosed more often among people over age 50 than among younger people.

The symptoms of head and neck cancers may include a lump or a sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty in swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice. 

Alcohol and tobacco use are major risk factors for head and neck cancers. Infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV) also increases a person’s risk of certain head and neck cancers. 

the latest research in head and neck cancers

Recent research in head and neck cancers is highlighted in Cancer Research Catalyst, the AACR blog: “AACR-AHNS Head and Neck Cancer Conference: Highlights from the Cutting Edge.

What the AACR is Doing in The Area of Head and Neck Cancers

In July 2023, the AACR and the American Head and Neck Society (AHNS) are holding the third AACR-AHNS Joint Conference on Head and Neck Cancer in Montreal. Leaders in the field are scheduled to present their latest research and provide critical updates on head and neck cancer biology, detection, imaging, prevention, and therapy, among other topics.

Research funding

The AACR also awards research grants to investigators pursuing promising research related to head and neck cancer.

In 2022, Yuxuan “Phoenix” Miao, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, received the AACR Gertrude B. Elion Cancer Research Award to study the roots of resistance to immunotherapy treatment in head and neck cancer. Dr. Miao is utilizing genetic approaches to identify the essential master regulators orchestrating the stem cell-specific intrinsic and extrinsic immune evasion program that governs head and neck cancer recurrence after immunotherapy. The information derived from this study can potentially reveal new targets for overcoming tumor relapse.

“This award will provide a valuable resource and critical support to establish my research program interrogating stem cell-specific immune resistance and build a solid foundation for my effort to design effective cancer immunotherapy,” Dr. Miao said.

In February 2021, the AACR and The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research announced five grants to support innovative research focused on understanding the influence of the biology of the patient on the genesis, development, treatment, and survivorship of cancer.

Fatemeh Momen-Heravi, PhD, of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University, was awarded one of the 3-year, $750,000 grants for a project entitled “Biological mechanism and risk factor of head and neck cancer in Blacks.”

Dr. Momen-Heravi’s project aims to characterize the molecular features of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and identify transcriptomic changes associated with HNSCC in patients of African ancestry. 

This grant supports the important mission of reducing health disparities in head and neck cancer,” said Dr. Momen-Heravi. “Our research will transform the lives of many minority patients by understanding their specific risk factors and developing new personalized treatment.”

for more information

Please see our page on head and neck cancers, which includes links to information on the specific organ sites that make up the head and neck category.