Rarely does James Rocco, MD, PhD, see patients who are in the early stages of oral, head and neck cancer. &ldquo;They present later than most other forms of cancer,&rdquo; said Dr. Rocco, co-director of the Head and Neck Disease Specific Research Group at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center &ndash; James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC &ndash; James). It takes longer for patients with these types of cancer to seek medical help and undergo screenings for a simple reason. In the early stages, the symptoms for oral, head and neck cancers are similar to those for more common &ndash; and not nearly as serious &ndash; ailments such as a cold, sinus infection or sore throat that lingers, Dr. Rocco explained. &ldquo;A sore throat is almost always a sore throat, 99.9-percent of the time, but every once in a while it&rsquo;s tonsil cancer.&rdquo; National Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week exists to raise the awareness, provide information and increase the number of screenings. It runs from April 10 to 16 this year, and the OSUCCC &ndash; James is hosting its 8th annual free screening on April 15 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The screenings include a mirror or flexible scope exam of the vocal cords, a nasal exam, an ear exam, oral cavity exam and a voice box exam. There are several different types of oral, head and neck cancer that the screenings might help detect. &ldquo;We go from the clavicle to the top of the head,&rdquo; Dr. Rocco said, adding that this includes the tongue, mouth, throat and voice box, sinuses, nasal cavities and salivary glands. Different cancer specialists at the OSUCCC &ndash; James treat cancers of the brain and eyes. &ldquo;In addition, there are also cancers that present in the head and neck that we share with other (oncology) doctors, such as skin cancer,&rdquo; Dr. Rocco said. Symptoms of head and neck cancer include persistent hoarseness, a sore throat or cough that doesn&rsquo;t go away over time, difficulty swallowing, ear pain, a lump in the neck or throat and problems breathing. Many oral, head and neck cancers can be prevented through lifestyle changes. &ldquo;The majority of people who get head and neck cancers are smokers,&rdquo; Dr. Rocco said. Excessive drinking is also a risk factor, and the combination of smoking and excessive drinking add up to an even higher risk factor. &ldquo;Chewing tobacco is associated with lip, oral cavity and tongue cancer,&rdquo; Dr. Rocco said. Exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV) through oral sex is also a risk factor for some forms of oral, head and neck cancer. HPV vaccinations can reduce the number of cases dramatically. &ldquo;Vaccinations are safe and very effective,&rdquo; Dr. Rocco said. There also appears to be a higher incidence rate among lower-income populations and minorities. &ldquo;For example, when people are living in poorer economic conditions, one of the first things that goes is regular dental care,&rdquo; Dr. Rocco said. Regular dental checkups are important, he said, because dentists are trained to spot oral, head and neck cancers in the early stages, when treatment will lead to better outcomes. Dr. Rocco noted that he doesn&rsquo;t want to unnecessarily alarm people who do indeed have a common cold or sore throat. &ldquo;The rule of thumb is, if your symptoms persist for three or more weeks, go see your primary care physician,&rdquo; he said. The odds are still overwhelmingly in favor of a cold, sore throat or sinus infection. &ldquo;But, if your doctor can&rsquo;t find a good explanation for your symptoms or they continue to persist, then it&rsquo;s time for a referral to an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist) or a head and neck surgeon.&rdquo; If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call The James Line at 614-293-5066 or 800-293-5066 to schedule a screening appointment: Persistent sore(s) of the mouth Hoarseness lasting longer than three weeks Sore throat that persists for more than six weeks Swelling in the neck for more than six weeks Appointments for the April 15 free screening will be scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. Complimentary parking will be provided in the North and South Cannon Garages, located at 1640 Cannon Drive (a parking pass will be provided after your appointment).