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Early diagnosis key to head and neck cancer survival

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Advances in treatment and knowledge of head and neck cancer has led to an improved quality of life for patients, according to a review of scientific evidence.

The review points to improved five-year survival rates for oropharynx and tonsil cancer. These have increased from 36% in the early 1980s to around 54% for patients diagnosed in 2000, according to US National Cancer Institute figures.

Authors describe evidence for a link between human papillomavirus and some types of head and neck cancer and new therapies that target out-of-control growth circuits in cancer cells.

However early detection is still key to increasing survival rates, said report author Dong M Shin, associate director of Emory University School of Medicine’s Winship Cancer Institute, in Atlanta, Georgia.

‘More than two-thirds of patients come to doctors with locally and regionally advanced disease, and their prognoses are dismal", he said. ‘But head and neck cancers are potentially curable when diagnosed at an early stage.’

New England Journal of Medicine (2008) 359: 47-59

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