Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month

The UF Health Proton Therapy Institute are Experts in Treating Oral, Head and Neck Cancers

April is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month. The physicians at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute are experts in treating this serious disease. Head and neck cancers are effectively treated with proton therapy, sometimes in combination with other treatment methods, delivering highly precise radiation to the cancer, while sensitive structures like the jawbone, salivary glands, eyes and spinal cord receive less radiation. This lowers the risk of side effects like bone injury and permanent dryness of the mouth.

Head and neck cancers account for nearly 4% 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 are diagnosed in the United States annually, and about 15,400 people die from these diseases.

These cancers significantly affect older adults - smokers especially - and more men than women. However, there is an unfortunate new trend in which younger people are being diagnosed with oral, head and neck cancers. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, the fastest-growing segment of oral cancer patients is young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals due to the connection to the HPV virus.

Always at the forefront of cancer research, the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute has an open clinical trial, led by Roi Dagan, MD, MS, associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Florida College of Medicine, to explore the notion that lower doses of radiation therapy may be as effective as the standard higher doses used presently as it relates to patients with a substance called cell-free HPV DNA (cfHPV DNA) in their blood. This could result in fewer side effects with equal effectiveness against these types of head and neck cancers. Read more about this trial.

In addition, a recent publication from the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute team showed our dedication to advancing research and treatment of oral, head and neck cancers. The publication reviews the benefits of using adaptive planning with cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) in treatment. Our efforts are aimed at achieving more precise timing for plan adaptations throughout the treatments, consistently maintaining the highest plan quality throughout the treatment journey, and ultimately, enhancing the overall patient experience.

In February, during the 54th Annual UF Radiation Oncology Research Seminar, a special discussion on head and neck cancers, led by William M. Mendenhall, MD, FACR, professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine, focused on HPV positive oropharyngeal cancer. The discussion covered NavDx impact, current data and future treatment approaches. Other experts in the discussion included: Steven J. Frank, MD; Peter T. Dziegielewski, MD, FRCSC, FACS; Glenn J. Hanna, MD; Robert Amdur, MD; and Mihir R. Patel, MD. At the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, we take a multidisciplinary approach to treating oral, head and neck cancers. Adults and children who are being treated at the Institute have access to the multidisciplinary team of specialists and subspecialists at the University of Florida.

At the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, tumor boards meet weekly to review cases and plan the best treatment for each individual. The Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy in Gainesville, the UF Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery – Jacksonville, and the UF Health Skull Base Center at UF Health Jacksonville all participate in the weekly tumor board meetings with the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. Read more about this treatment planning in our February edition of Precision.

In April, there are many physicians that offer free oral cancer screenings. Visit the Oral Cancer Foundation’s calendar for more information. Regular dental and physician appointments are also beneficial in screening against cancers.


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