Canterbury DHB supporting World Head and Neck Cancer Day


Canterbury DHB supporting World Head and Neck Cancer Day

Media release from Canterbury District Health Board

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 (tomorrow, 27 July).

The goal of 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.

Dr Robert Allison, Head and Neck Surgeon in Christchurch and past President of the New Zealand Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, says head and neck cancers often go undetected because many people don't recognise the early warning signs and symptoms.

“We're supporting World Head and Neck Cancer Day in the hope it helps raise awareness of 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,” Dr Allison says.

Head and neck cancer can be in the mouth, throat, neck, nose, sinuses and salivary glands with all being relatively common. Treatment is complex and can involve major surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

“In Christchurch we see between four and six new head and neck cancer patients per week (approximately 200 new patients per year) and some types are becoming more common, particularly cancer of the throat (oropharynx) and the thyroid gland.

“Throat cancer, particularly in men, is related to human papilloma virus (HPV) which can be successfully prevented with the Gardasil vaccine. This is available to all males between five and 26 years of age through their General Practice team, at no charge.

“Unfortunately 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,” Dr Allison 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 GP.

Cantabrian Cosette Joy, a throat cancer survivor, says she hopes this year’s World Head and Neck Cancer Day can help raise awareness of these types of cancers in New Zealand.

“Four years ago I was diagnosed with throat cancer. I was really scared at the time of diagnosis, with a very long journey of chemotherapy and radiation treatment ahead of me.

“Thankfully the cancer was picked up early enough that the treatment available to me was successful, and I now have a wonderful life. I count myself as extremely lucky to have had such an outcome.

“I’d encourage everyone to make themselves aware of the symptoms of these cancers and get in touch with their GP if they suspect something isn’t quite right,” says Cosette.

You can view Cosette telling her story as a throat cancer survivor here:

Additional information:
• 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 organisations, representing 50 countries. The purpose of this organisation 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: