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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.


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