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Time to get your head around the signs of cancers

Wednesday 27 July 2016Media release4 minutes to read

Christchurch Hospital Cancer specialists, together with the Cancer Society Canterbury-West Coast Division, are raising awareness about early signs of head and neck cancers ahead of this year's World Head and Neck Cancer Day (July 27th).

Wendy Mann, Christchurch Hospital Head and Neck Clinical Nurse Specialist, says head and neck cancers often go undetected because many people don't recognise the early warning signs and symptoms.

She says the goal for World Head and Neck Cancer Day is to highlight head and neck cancers to the general public and support health professionals to increase their knowledge of early diagnosis and the treatment available.

“We're supporting World Head and Neck Cancer Day in the hope it helps raise awareness around the disease and the signs to look out for because treatment is more likely to be successful and less invasive if symptoms are recognised at an early stage,” Wendy says.

Dr Robert Allison, Head and Neck Surgeon in Christchurch and President of the New Zealand Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, adds that head and neck cancer can be in the mouth, throat, neck, and salivary glands and all are relatively common.

“In Christchurch we see between four and six new head and neck patients per week and some types are becoming more common, particularly cancer of the throat (oropharynx) and the thyroid gland.”

Dr Allison says treatment is complex and can involve major surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

“Many patients we treat have advanced cancer, which means treatment is more complex with a lower success rate. Even if the cancer is treated successfully, it can still have a major effect on a patient's quality of life,” he says.

The common symptoms of head and neck cancer include a painless lump in the neck, persistent mouth ulceration, persistent hoarseness, and one-sided sore throat. Anyone with these symptoms for more than three weeks should see their General Practice (GP) team.

“If patients and GP teams were more aware of the early signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer, then we would see patients with less advanced disease and they would have better outcomes from treatment.”
Pene Clifford, who runs a head and neck cancer support group for Cantabrians at the Cancer Society, says it's a six weekly support group for people affected by a head and neck cancer diagnosis and their support people.

“The support group offers information, through health professional presentations, and the support of others to help you through the side effects of treatment and beyond.”

Further information:

• A head and neck cancer information display will be taking place at Christchurch Hospital on July 27th 2016 and a series of new leaflets have been developed to help people understand more about head and neck cancers. The leaflets are available to download from the Cancer Society website at or you can request copies by calling the Cancer Information Helpline on 0800 226 237.

• If you are undergoing treatment for a head and neck cancer or you are a survivor of head and neck cancer you may be interested in joining the head and neck support group. Contact Pene Clifford on 03 379 5835

• International Federation of Head and Neck Oncology Societies (IFHNOS) declared 27th July as World Head & Neck Cancer Day during the 5th World Congress in New York on 27th July 2014.

• (IFHNOS) is a global organisation established through cooperation of national and regional societies and organisations in the specialty of head and neck surgery and oncology with membership from national and regional multidisciplinary organizations, representing 50 countries. The purpose of this organization is to provide a common platform for specialists in the field of head and neck cancer to interact in professional matters of mutual interest. To know more about IFHNOS visit

• Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC) affects over 500,000 people globally each year and is the leading cause of mortality and disability in many parts of the world. It mainly affects people in the productive age-group, yet most of this mortality and morbidity is preventable.

• New Zealand is a member of IFHNOS via the New Zealand Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery.

• The Cancer Society Cancer Information Helpline is available on Tel: 0800 226 237. People can also email a Cancer Information nurse via the Cancer Society website at:



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Page last updated: 19 December 2018

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