There’s a New Cancer Threat!
Health related articles have been talking about a new cancer on the rise. Throat cancer strikes tens of thousands of Americans annually, but chances are it only recently hit your radar (Michael Douglas’ diagnosis spotlighted the disease earlier this year). Thanks to decreasing smoking rates, its incidence has been declining, except for one type: oropharynx cancer, which health related articles say is increasingly affecting nonsmokers. That’s due to a rise in human papillomavirus, the virus linked to cervical cancer. “HPV-related oropharynx cancer is an emerging epidemic”, says a noted head and neck oncologist. Health related articles say there are about 7,000 cases in America, and that is expected to double in 5-10 years.
Tip-offs, such as hoarseness, swollen glands, and throat pain are so common during cold and flu season that it’s easy to dismiss them. The obvious signs of stress we also feel during cold and flu season, should be checked out if they persist and involve swollen glands. A common scenario: A patient complains of a sore throat, gets treated for infection, and sees improvement. Then the “infection” returns and is treated with more medication. This can go on for months, during which time a stage one throat cancer can progress to stage four because it’s very aggressive.
Here are some essential steps to help you and your fame stay safe:
Pay Close Attention to Recurring Symptoms – Doctors don’t routinely screen for throat cancer, so flag any symptoms that last longer than two weeks or that clear-up but soon return. Your primary care doctor will refer you to an ear, nose, and throat doctor for more thorough testing. When HPV-related cancer is caught early, patients have greater than a 90% survival rate. Most patients are younger and healthier than those with cancers triggered by smoking and drinking. Research shows HPV-positive cancers also respond better to radiation and chemotherapy. Don’t allow signs of stress to include a lingering sore throat or swollen glands to be written off without further investigation.
Know Your Risk – Recent health related articles reported that people with six or more oral-sex partners in their lifetime were at 3.4 times greater risk of this kind of throat cancer. The HPV virus may remain dormant for years or even decades, so your past partners can affect your current vulnerability even if you’ve long been married. IF you’ve had abnormal Pap tests or a history of cervical HPV infections, then you may be at higher risk of oropharynx cancer. But before you start fretting over your sexual history, know that although the HPV virus is common, throat cancer is still relatively rare. About 4%-10% of people have oral HPV infections, but only a tiny fraction of those will be diagnosed with cancer. Your body usually fights off the virus. Also, keep in mind that smoking is still the predominant cause of oropharynx cancer.
Vaccinate Your Children – Currently approved to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts in people ages 9-26, the HPV vaccine can likely thwart throat cancer too. One of the strains it protects against (HPV 16) is linked to more than 90% of HPV-related throat cancers. Experts advise getting your tween, teen, or young adult vaccinated.
Thanks to health related articles, we’re reading about Michael Douglas’ throat cancer and being exposed to the symptoms, which can easily be confused with the symptoms of cold and flu season or lingering signs of stress, which include sore throat and swollen glands.