World Head & Neck Cancer Day, 27 July: A call for effective tobacco & areca nut control

Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Professor and Head and Neck Surgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, India.

Head and cancers are a major cause of death and disability globally, and the most common cancer in low-income countries. To draw the world’s attention to effective care and control of head and neck cancers, the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies, (IFHNOS) has marked 27th July World Head and Neck Cancer Day (WHNCD).

The day is supported by numerous governments, NGOs, the Union for International Cancer Control and more than 52 Head & Neck societies from across the world. In some parts of the world, such as south Asia, head and neck cancers make up 30-40% of the entire cancer burden, straining national health care systems and impoverishing individuals, families and society. Though the vast majority can be prevented, millions continue to suffer from delayed diagnosis, inadequate treatment and rehabilitation and poor palliative care.

Tobacco is the main risk factor for nearly two thirds of head and neck cancers. Tobacco in any form is causally linked to cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx and larynx. Areca nut chewing contributes to the very high burden of oral cancer in South and Southeast Asia. In order to effectively counter the aggressive marketing of tobacco products, a multi-sectoral response is needed from governments, NGOs, health care professionals, civil society, academia, and industry. To achieve this, WHNCD encourages advocacy for a) effective policies for prevention, b) strengthening health care system, c) community-based approaches for awareness and early detection of head and neck cancers. Events may include public awareness campaigns, group discussions by patients, families and support groups, media coverage, and free screening activities.

A major concern is lack of expertise among physicians with regards to counselling for tobacco use cessation (as well as other risk factors such as alcohol use), awareness and opportunistic screening for head and neck cancers, skills for policy advocacy etc. Even those who specialise in the treatment of head and neck cancers need to constantly enhance their knowledge and skills. WHNCD urges organisation of such educational programs by government and non-government organizations, civil society, medical societies and schools, patient support groups, medical facilities and hospitals.

To know more about WHNCD, visit the website

Please sign the petition to support WHNCD at

IFHNOS is an international body bringing together specialists involved in the care of patients with head and neck cancer worldwide. It was established to enhance information exchange and improve knowledge, as well as to explore new directions in the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients with head and neck cancer. The Federation has a membership of 52 Head and Neck oncology organisations, representing 65 countries, from every part of the world. The Federation is able to reach over 5000 specialists providing care to patients with head and neck cancer through membership of its component societies. To know more about IFHNOS please visit

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