Grandparents are shown reading to their grandchildren in Hawaii
/  Members
/  Head and Neck Cancers

Head and Neck Cancers

Head and neck cancers account for about three percent of malignancies – roughly 63,000 diagnoses, 13,000 deaths – in the U.S. annually.

Cancers typically begin in the squamous cells that line moist mucosal surfaces i.e.: inside the mouth, nose and throat and are categorized by the area of the head or neck where they begin.

Head and neck cancers can appear in oral cavities, in the throat or behind the nose, in the nasal cavity, in your voice box, and/ or on the floor of the mouth near the jawbone.

Risk factors for head and neck cancer

  • Tobacco and alcohol use. Both are carcinogenic and come in close contact with the lips and mouth.
  • Overexposure to sunlight can increase the risk of cancer of the lips, especially on the lower lip.
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. It affects skin that lines all moist areas of the body, including your mouth.
  • A family history of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the most common type of oral cancer.

Oral cancer screening

Your enhanced dental benefits include two screenings for oral cancer. It takes just a few minutes and improves the chances that any potentially cancerous or precancerous lesions will be caught early and successfully treated. Your dentist will carefully inspect the following areas for sores, spots, and lumps:

  • Face, neck, lips, and mouth
  • Jaw and the side of your neck
  • Tongue
  • Roof and floor of your mouth
  • Back of your throat

Be sure to tell your dentist if you’ve noticed a sore or lump in your mouth that doesn’t heal, or are experiencing a constant sore throat, difficulty swallowing and/ or voice change or hoarseness.

How head and neck cancer treatment affects your mouth

Radiation therapy is standard treatment for head or neck cancer patients and can cause gum infections, mouth sores and tooth decay. Visiting a dentist prior to radiation therapy to have any needed treatment completed is necessary to prevent serious oral problems from developing after or during radiation treatment.

Radiation side effects

  • Dry mouth
  • Several cavities
  • Sore gums and mouth
  • Infections
  • Jaw stiffness and jawbone changes
  • Loss of taste

Condition-specific benefits at no additional cost

To help manage the condition and improve oral health, our Oral Health for Total Health program provides enhanced dental benefits for enrolled program members who are diagnosed with oral cancer. These benefits are covered 100% with no out-of-pocket expenses when seeing a participating provider.

  • Two additional cleanings or periodontal maintenance visits per year (total of four).
  • Oral cancer screenings once every six months and fluoride treatments once every three months.

Members with health and dental plans from HMSA who have a diagnosis of heart disease are enrolled automatically. Dental members who don’t have a health plan with HMSA can easily enroll online.

To use your Oral Health for Total Health benefits, simply make an appointment with your dentist. To find a dentist in your plan’s network, visit our provider directory.