WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - March is neck and cancer awareness month. The cancers are rare but when they strike, they hit hard as many patients have to undergo extensive reconstructive surgery.
Dr. William Curtis, a maxillofacial surgeon and oncologist specializes in head and neck cancer.
"Mainly cancers of the tongue, jaw, cheeks, lips, nose face, a lot of different tumors in the head and neck," he adds.
Head and neck cancers are less common than the more common cancers such as breast, prostate, and lung cancers. The number of cases, however, is increasing.
Dr. Curtis says there's an increase in head cancers, like throat cancers, linked to the most common sexually transmitted infection; human papillomavirus or HPV.
"The vast majority of the population is exposed to it at some point throughout their life but for whatever reason some of us just don't clear that virus out of our systems and so later on in life it can cause these cancers," says Dr. Curtis.
Nearly 80 million people are currently infected in the United States. About 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year.
"I'm seeing much younger. I've seen patients come in as young as in their 20's and 30's but mainly 40's and 50's that have these HPV associated cancers," Dr. Curtis says.
A vaccine for HPV reduces a person's chances of getting certain cancers, specifically, cervical cancer in women.
CDC recommends the vaccine for young women through age 26, and young men through age 21.