Head and Neck Cancer Awareness and Ranting

Gotta bring this up, but why does breast cancer get an awareness month and head and neck cancer get a week.  Stage vs. Stage, head and neck cancer is a much more lethal disease than breast cancer.  I am not downplaying breast cancer, but want to bring this to my vast readers (at least 2) as something that is not on our radar.

Head and neck cancer has been traditionally related to hard living, i.e. smoking and drinking.  More recently, the human papilloma virus, which can cause a cancer on almost any mucosal lining.  There is another virus that causes a cancer in the nasopharynx, which is the area behind the nasal cavity.  This is especially virulent in China which dramatically increases these cases in China compared to a Chinese-American in the U.S.




I’ve heard “he smoked so this is expected.”  “He earned this cancer.”  “Not surprising.”

This is from family members discussing a loved one.  Unfortunately, we think that because someone smoked they “earned” this cancer.  One of my mentors in radiation oncology and a friend is an intermittent smoker. He was a member of a very large clinical trial that changed the treatment paradigm of lung cancer, yet he has stopped and started smoking throughout his life.  He said stopping is the toughest thing he has done.

Cancer sucks. People get cancer.  People do things that place them at risk for cancer.  People get the same cancers without risk factors.  A good friend of mine had been treated for head and neck cancer by age 38, as I saw him at my twenty year class reunion and he had already gone through treatment. Non-smoker/drinker/etc.  He just got it because of bad luck.

So, to summarize this post. Head and neck cancer is aggressive. There are risk factors to avoid. You can still get it without risk factors, less likely. And finally, if there is a fundraiser for this one, don’t be judgmental, and please consider participating.  We need to improve survival rates for this one, like we have in breast cancer over the last 20 years.

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