(HealthDay News) — Few American adults know about the risk factors for and symptoms of head and neck cancer (HNC), according to a study published online June 5 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Alexander L. Luryi, from the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and colleagues conducted an online survey of 2,126 randomly selected U.S. adults to examine subjective and objective knowledge of HNC. The assessment of knowledge included symptoms, risk factors, and association with the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

The researchers found that self-reported HNC knowledge was low, with two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents reporting that they were not very or not at all knowledgeable. There was no significant variation in self-reported knowledge according to tobacco use, education, sex, or race (P = 0.92, 0.053, 0.07, and 0.02, respectively). A total of 22.1, 15.3, and 2.0 percent of respondents correctly identified throat, mouth, and larynx cancer, respectively, as sites comprising HNC, while 21.0 percent incorrectly identified brain cancer as HNC. More than half (54.5 percent) and 32.7 percent of respondents identified smoking and chewing or spitting tobacco as risk factors for mouth and throat cancer, respectively. HPV infection was identified as a risk factor for mouth and throat cancers by 0.8 percent of respondents, but 12.8 percent were aware of the correlation between HPV infection and throat cancer on specific questioning. Most respondents (70 percent) were aware of the HPV vaccine.

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“Strategies to improve public awareness and knowledge of signs, symptoms, and risk factors may decrease the disease burden of HNC and are important topics for future research,” the authors write.

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