Cancers that affect the head and neck area also include smog as a major risk factor
Head and neck cancers (which affect the tongue, larynx, organ of the voice, salivary glands and nasal cavities) are the least known, often kept silent and underestimated, despite the fact that they affect 10,000 Italians every year. We know how the triggering risk factors are often attributable to diet, smoking, alcohol, an irregular lifestyle. However, these should not let another element that affects the onset of this neoplasm go unnoticed: smog .
Living in areas with high levels of air pollution can be a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancer, particularly for cancer of the oral cavity, larynx and pharynx. “Air pollution and fine particles have already been included in class I substances, i.e. carcinogenic, while a 2018 German study conducted in Saxony on 2 million people exposed to increasing levels of pollution hypothesized an increase in the relative risk of 53% for the development of tumors of the mouth and throat”, explains Stefano Bondi, director of the otolaryngology operating unit of the Istituto Candiolo in Turin.
Adding certainties to the relationship between smog and head and neck cancer is a study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, presented at the annual meeting of the American Head and Neck Society. Certainly not one of the first studies on the matter, but certainly an interesting document for further analysis of incidences and prevalences. The American researchers cross-referenced data from the Illinois cancer registry, relating to the period from 2014 to 2018, with the postal codes of residence of patients with head and neck cancer. To determine the level of pollution of individual areas, they used maps from the US Environmental Protection Agency. The results showed a 2.5-fold increased risk of head and neck cancers, particularly of the oral and pharyngeal cavities, in people over the age of 65, residing in areas with high levels of diesel particulate matter, largely from traffic.
Italy is already at the forefront
In Italy there are 57,900 people living with a diagnosis of head and neck cancer (36,100 men and 21,800 women). These tumors are confirmed to be more frequent in men over 65 years of age, with a decreasing but still high mortality rate. But in our country there are important developments in terms of patient care: thanks to new surgical techniques and technologies, of which the Candiolo Institute represents an example of excellence in Italy and abroad, it is possible to intervene with great precision without compromising the nearby nervous structures, thus preserving potentially involved functions such as voice and chewing.
However, it remains true that over half of cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage due to poor knowledge of the symptoms (such as, for example, hoarseness lasting more than 3 weeks, mouth ulcers that do not heal, throat pain and neck swelling). . “This should lead to investing more and more in early diagnosis studies and hi-tech interventions which are the only ones that preserve voice, chewing and all those elements that make this type of tumor highly disabling with a very high emotional impact because they can compromise, not only important features, but also the image of oneself”, as Dr. Bondi affirms.