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5 Questions Shed Light on 6th Most Common Cancer

Many people are in the dark about oral/head/neck cancer, the sixth-most common form of cancer. If caught early, it can be successfully treated. But low awareness means too many patients get treatment late. A stark reality – considering this can be a highly virulent cancer with a 5-year survival rate of only about 50%.

As part of Oral, Head, & Neck Cancer Awareness Week, Albert Einstein College of Medicine (@EinsteinMed) partnered with Montefiore Medical Center, the University hospital for Einstein (@MontefioreNews), by co-hosting a live Twitter chat on April 25, 2012 to shed light on the disease.

Providing details about Oral/Head/Neck cancer research and treatment were Dr. Michael Prystowsky, professor and chair of pathology at Einstein and Montefiore and Dr. Richard Smith, professor and vice chair of clinical otorhinolaryngology – head & neck surgery at Einstein and Montefiore.

Adding a patient perspective was Sara Khalifa, a 14-year thyroid cancer survivor who is now a patient advocate with the Thyroid, Head and Neck Cancer (THANC) Foundation ( @THANCFoundation).

We asked all of the guests to comment on a variety of questions from staff and the dozens of Twitter users following the hashtag #headneckcancer. Here are 5 excerpts of questions and answers from the informative chat.

@EinsteinMed: What are the symptoms of oral/head/neck cancer? @MontefioreNews: (Dr. Smith) H&NC may not be symptomatic. Common symptoms: sore throat, ear pain, breathing/swallowing issues, mouth/throat bleeding. Often, particularly when it’s related to HPV, there is an unexplained lump in the neck.

@Einsteinemed: Sara, can you tell us some more about your story? @THANCFoundation: (Sara) I was diagnosed at age 30 with Papillary Thyroid CA My cancer was found quite accidentally by my gynecologist who was the only doctor to ever palpate my neck.

@EinsteinMed: How has treatment of oral/head/neck cancer improved and what are the challenges of treatment?
@MontefioreNews: (Dr. Smith) More directed treatment, minimally invasive surgery, challenges are minimizing side effects & early diagnosis

@EinsteinMed: With such high mortality rates (as high as 50% at 5 years), what are the coming trends in research? How important will genetic research be?
@EinsteinMed: (Dr. Prystowsky) 1 research trend is 2 understand genomic basis of cancers. It’s conducted by NCI & called The Cancer Genome Atlas. Einstein & Montefiore are participating in this effort for Head & Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma & Gynecologic Cancers. We’re trying to find genetic events in particular cancer that correlates w/tumor behavior or response to therapy…

There’s an increasing incidence of oral/head/neck cancer due to the human papilloma virus (HPV).

@EinsteinMed: Patients ask: can I go to my doctor and get an HPV blood test?
@MontefioreNews: (Dr. Smith) There’s no blood test but women should screen with their GYN for cervical cancer.
@EinsteinMed: (Dr. Prystowsky) Researchers are working to apply the test used for pap smears for throat swabs.

For more of these questions and answers and Oral/Head/Neck cancer chat, please see our Storify summary page or view the entire chat at it looked in real time.  You can also see what an a Squamous Cell Carcinoma looks like (WARNING: graphic content) in this slide we shared during the event.

Do you have an oral head & neck cancer story to share? Do you have additional questions after reading our summary? Please leave them in the comments below.


The Doctor's Tablet Editors

The Doctor's Tablet Editors

The Doctor’s Tablet is co-edited by Paul Moniz and David Flores of Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s department of communications and public affairs.

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