Throat cancer has become an epidemic. Many thousands of people are diagnosed with it every year. And the cause isn’t what you think.
As I stated in my previous post, I was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer back in early March. I had a biopsy and a tracheotomy tube inserted, and spent a week in Northside Hospital.
We were fortunate to get a prompt second opinion from Emory. Based on the advice from a total of five doctors between Northside and Emory, I was given two choices:
One was to try chemo and radiation to hopefully get rid of the cancer.
The other, and by consensus of the doctors, the only real chance I had to beat this, was a total Laryngectomy. For the uneducated on this procedure (and I was one of them), they would open my neck from ear to ear, completely remove my voice box and possibly some lymph nodes. Then they would rebuild my throat, taking a skin graft from my arm to redirect my trachea (windpipe) to a permanent hole in my neck, called a stoma.
Here is a video of the procedure (not me).
I would be what’s called a “neck breather.” My esophagus and trachea would now be separate. I would lose my voice, and most of my sense of smell. Plus go through 6 weeks of radiation, and possibly chemo.
If I chose door number one (kids, ask your grandparents), chances are I would still have to have the laryngectomy, and by then the cancer might have spread.
So I chose the surgery.
It’s now a little over 3 weeks after the surgery. They removed a tumor slightly smaller than a golf ball, plus some lymph nodes. I spent 8 days in Emory Hospital, and have now been home a couple of weeks. Radiation and chemo will start soon.
But that’s not the main purpose of this article.
Where did this cancer come from? It used to be, the main causes were smoking and heavy drinking, neither of which applied to me.
HPV, the human papillomavirus, according to the pathology report, was 100% the cause.
HPV is mostly looked at as something that causes cervical cancer in women, but it is a major cause of throat cancer, mostly in men. According to this article from NYU Langone Health:
13,000 cases a year
In the United States, 36 people (mostly men) each day are being told “you have cancer,” and 25 of them get it because of HPV.
And there’s not much we can do about it.
The CDC recommends that all children get vaccinated for HPV at 11 or 12, and up until 26 if “not adequately vaccinated when younger.”
But after age 26, the vaccine is pretty much useless. While it protects people from getting infected with HPV, if someone has already been exposed, it does nothing. It’s a preventative measure, not a cure.
Now, while most people who get infected with HPV have no symptoms, the vast majority of throat cancer is caused by HPV.
Vaccinate your kids, please.
Now I can’t blame anyone for not vaccinating me, nor am I at fault for not vaccinating my children, as the vaccine wasn’t approved until 2006. But those of you with small children, and us with grandchildren have no excuse.
Again, vaccinate your kids, please.
Throat cancer warning signs
I never saw this until I had already received my diagnosis, but here are 11 throat cancer warning signs:
- Persistent cough
- Difficulty swallowing
- A lump in the mouth, throat or neck
- Hoarseness or other voice changes
- Ear or jaw pain
- White patches or sores in the mouth or throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swelling of the eyes, jaw, throat or neck
- Bleeding in the mouth or nose
Here’s the kicker. In the beginning I had none of these symptoms. My only symptom was the feeling that there was something in my throat that felt like sinus drainage. I was always having to clear my throat. Doctors thought it was allergies. It wasn’t until the hoarseness started that I went to the ENT.
That was early March. My surgery was April 4th. One month to go from allergies to neck breather.
If you have any of these signs, please get checked. Don’t wait until you have a golf ball size tumor in your throat to go to the doctor.
I will survive, but my quality of life has been affected. Please do what you can to avoid this disease.