NCCN Releases Patient Guidelines for Head, Neck Cancer

May 28, 2020

To help patients and their caregivers cope, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) this week completed a 3-book series that explains care and management options for those with head and neck cancer.

In the United States, 65,000 individuals are diagnosed with head and neck cancer annually, and the incidence of certain types is rising. To help patients and their caregivers cope, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) this week completed a 3-book series that explains care and management options.

The latest book is a guide to cancers of the oropharynx, which generally includes the back of the throat, including the tongue base, tonsils, soft palate, and pharyngeal wall. The other 2 books are a guide to nasopharynx (the passage between the nasal cavity and the soft palate) cancers and oral cancers.

“The head and neck area is incredibly important for speaking and eating, and it’s the first thing people see and feel,” Sharon Spencer, MD, professor and Chief of Medical Services in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Radiation Oncology, said in a statement.

“When you disrupt a patient’s life with radiation, chemo, or surgery to the head and neck, it’s especially challenging for them and their families. Their diet has to change, their salivary function may change, and many people experience a lot of fatigue and emotional distress. These guidelines can help them prepare and reinforce the information they get from their clinicians, better enabling caregivers to serve as coaches and motivators throughout the entire process,” said Spencer, who is also vice chair of the NCCN panel that developed the guidelines.

According to the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (HNCA), 550,000 cases are diagnosed worldwide, and it is the sixth leading cancer by incidence.

While alcohol and tobacco are known risk factors for head and neck cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV) is creating an increase in oralpharyngeal cancers. This type of cancer affects men 3 times as often as women.

Spencer reiterated actions to prevent head and neck cancer, such as widespread HPV vaccination, particularly among adolescents, and avoiding tobacco products, which are associated with the 2 main types of oropharyngeal cancer.

While there are better overall survival rates for HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer, vaccination is an effective way to prevent it from occurring in the first place, the NCCN noted.

Nasopharyngeal cancers, which are associated with the Epstein-Barr virus but not HPV, are much less common in the United States than oropharyngeal cancers.

Besides receiving support from the NCCN Foundation, the guidelines, which are free to download, are funded by the HNCA, Oral Cancer Foundation, and Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancers.