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Prevention is your best protection against head and neck cancer. Quitting smoking, avoiding heavy alcohol use and making other healthy lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your risk of developing the disease.

In addition, getting yearly health exams is important to catching cancer early, when it’s most treatable. CHI Saint Joseph Health Primary Care providers offer complete oral, head and neck screenings as part of your annual visit, and will work closely with you to create a prevention plan. We can also connect you directly to one of our board-certified ENTs or another a specialist, if needed, and help coordinate all follow-up care.

To request a referral to one of our caring specialists, call 844.303.9355 or find a head and neck cancer specialist online.

Who Should Be Screened

More people are being diagnosed with oral, head and neck cancers at a younger age than in the past, when most of these cancers were found in adults over age 50. Because these cancers now affect a more diverse group of people, virtually everyone should get screened. That includes:

  • Anyone who has smoked or used other tobacco products, and those who regularly drink alcohol
  • Anyone who’s sexually active, as HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection
  • Anyone with a prior head and neck malignancy

What to Expect 

During your check-up, your doctor will look inside your mouth, nose and throat, and check for lumps in your neck. That’s especially important if you use tobacco or have in the past, or drink regularly.

If your physician finds anything suspicious, you may have a few additional tests. Common options include:

  • Biopsy: A small piece of tissue is removed and checked for cancer cells.
  • Panendoscopy: A complete exam done in the operating room under anesthesia. The surgeon looks inside your nose, mouth and throat through thin tubes called scopes and may perform biopsies of abnormal tissue.
  • CT scan: A special kind of X-ray that takes detailed pictures to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, lungs or other organs.
  • MRI scan: MRIs use radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays to take detailed pictures. MRIs can be used to learn more about the size of the cancer and look for other tumors.
  • Barium swallow: X-rays are taken while you swallow a liquid with barium in it. Barium coats the inside surface of the throat and helps get a good picture to see how you swallow.
  • Chest X-rays: Used to see if the cancer has spread to the lungs.
  • PET scan: You are given a special type of sugar that can be seen inside your body with a special camera. If there is cancer, this sugar shows up as “hot spots” where the cancer is found.

If cancer is detected, know that you have Central Kentucky’s most experienced care team in your corner. These specialists will discuss cancer treatment options with you and create a personalized plan.

Find a Provider

Find a primary care provider or specialist near you in our extensive network of clinics and hospitals.