The most common cancer affecting men in Singapore is nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). Thyroid cancer is the ninth most common cancer affecting women in Singapore and the incidence rate of thyroid cancer has been rising over the year. Here is what you need to know about these top two head and neck cancers.
NPC is often “hidden” at the back of the nose and above the oropharynx. Thanks to increased awareness and the routine use of endoscopic nasal examinations and cancer marking blood screenings (EBV-serology), NPC is often now diagnosed early rather than in the late stages.
Nose cancer tends to occur in patients aged 30-50. People of Southern Chinese descent (Cantonese, Hokkiens, Teochews, etc.) are 20-30 times more likely to get this disease than people of other ethnic backgrounds, although incidences have been decreasing over the last few decades. If a person has a family history of NPC, he or she should be particularly vigilant about watching out for symptoms of NPC.
Common symptoms of NPC:
- Blood-stained sputum upon waking up in the morning
- Blocked sensation or tinnitus (ringing sound) in the ear
- Lumps in the neck (lymph node spread)
- Late stages present as headache, squint (double vision), nose bleed and blocked nose
Treatment for NPC involves:
- NPC may require only radiotherapy if detected early.
- In the later stages, patient may require both radiotherapy and chemotherapy. If the NPC fails to respond to radiotherapy or chemotherapy, surgery may be required.
2. Thyroid cancer
Only 5% of all thyroid growths or cysts are cancerous.
Susceptibility to thyroid cancer is high if the patient has had radiation therapy (especially during childhood) and/or has a family history of this cancer, or previously suffered from a thyroid disease.
Common symptoms of thyroid cancer:
- Thyroid cancer usually presents with an asymptomatic lump in the centre lower neck, just above the clavicle
- Usually occurs as a slow growing, painless lump in the lower neck
- It causes voice hoarseness if the larynx or the nerve to the vocal cord is involved
- Breathing and swallowing may be affected if there is a large tumour
Treatment for thyroid cancer involves:
- Surgical excision of the thyroid and lymph nodes involved
- In cases with good prognosis, surgery is followed by radioactive iodine therapy
- Most thyroid cancer are readily curable when diagnosed and treated early