Facing Cancer: Head On

Nurse examining female patients mouth

Author: Rohan R. Walvekar, MD, Mervin L. Trail Endowed Chair in Head & Neck Oncology and Director of Salivary Endoscopy Service at University Medical Center New Orleans

When most people hear the word “cancer,” it’s likely that breast, prostate and lung cancers first come to mind.

However, few people realize that head and neck cancer accounts for four percent of all cancers in the United States.

Affecting twice as many men as they do women, head and neck cancers are projected to affect nearly 65,000 people in the world this year alone, killing roughly 14,000 of those afflicted.

Oral and head/neck cancers are unique because they directly affect the organs that allow us to communicate. Often living in the oral cavity of people’s mouths, these forms of cancer can also be found in the tonsils, voice box, throat, tongue or neck – specifically in a person’s lymph nodes. They leave lasting effects on appearance, speech, the sense of smell, eating, swallowing and even breathing.

Tobacco and alcohol are the most common risk factors for these forms of cancer.

Early screening is important before it’s too late.

University Medical Center New Orleans is offering free head and neck screenings on September 22 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the UMC Conference Center Room J.

If you are unfamiliar with head and neck cancer or want to learn more about the screening process, here’s what you should know:

About Screening

  • UMC is offering free oral cancer screening to the public on September 22.
  • Screening for head and neck cancer takes 1 minute or less.
  • An experienced physician will examine you using a non-painful and effective method for detecting oral cancers. He or she will examine your oral cavity and neck to evaluate and diagnose abnormal lesions of the mouth, neck, thyroid and salivary glands.
  • Oral screenings are NOT dental screenings.
  • If you are experiencing problems with your voice box or throat, a UMC physician will happily discuss these concerns in-person at the screening and then set up an appropriate follow-up appointment with our hospital’s ENT Clinic.

Why It’s Important

  • If detected early, cancer prognosis in stages 1 and 2 is significantly better than that of later cancer stages (stages 3-4).
  • Treatment can be administered with limited consequences to function.
    • Smaller and more functional operations (surgery or radiation) are possible; recovery times are much faster.
    • For late stage tumors, multiple treatment modalities have to be included (surgery + radiation + chemotherapy). Prognosis can be poor and recovery time often takes longer.
    • In later stages, there is a higher recurrence rate, longer rehabilitation and, often, permanent impact on function. This is when the need for a permanent tracheotomy, a feeding tube or disfiguring surgery comes into play.

How to Know if You Should Get Checked

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is best that you get screened:

  • Ulcer or growth or discoloration in the mouth that may not have gone away with treatment
  • Neck lump or mass (suggestive of spread to the lymph nodes in the neck)
  • Pain in the ear (with no prior ear disease)
  • Difficulty swallowing or changes in voice

How to Register for your Free Screening

Walk-ins are welcome, but we encourage you to pre-register using the form here on our website.

For more information on head and neck cancer types, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, please visit the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance online.

Breast Cancer: Survivorship Begins at Diagnosis

Support Group

Delia Young, RN
Nurse Navigator

UMC Cancer Center

Each year, 1 in 8 women in the United States will hear the devastating news that they have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer is frightening for anyone. For women faced with breast cancer, the diagnosis is wrapped in a tangle of emotions and questions:

How will I get through this? Will it impact my family? Will it affect my relationships? Will I survive?

Steps to Survivorship

Every woman’s breast cancer journey is unique, but this holds true for all:

Survivorship begins at diagnosis.

From the start, it’s important to consider not only the immediate actions and treatments available, but also a complete plan that encompasses the entire breast cancer journey.

In UMC’s Cancer Center, we work to assist our patients with plans of care to help them navigate through treatment, providing a start- and endpoint and a way to see themselves outside of treatment.

One of the vital steps in survivorship is identifying support systems, whether it’s family members or close friends. Cancer treatments are long and exhausting, and many people need help coping with the process. At the UMC Cancer Center, we advise most patients to join a support group. Research indicates that people who belong to a support group are better able to cope with the stress of their disease. These groups can help patents see how people in similar situations are managing their care and experiences. Support groups can also be empowering because patients can assist someone else along their journey.

>> SUPPORT GROUP – Team Survivors: Breast Edition

Breast cancer survivors and their families are invited to join us for UMC’s supportive care program, Team Survivors: Breast Edition, every first Thursday of the month. Every month, we provide the opportunity to learn, share and discuss the different topics that affect breast cancer survivors. Our next group meeting will be on Monday, September 7, from 12-1 p.m. in the UMC Cancer Center Conference Room.

To RSVP, contact me – Delia Young, at (504) 702-3725 or Delia.Young@LCMChealth.org.

Life Beyond Breast Cancer

It doesn’t stop there. Once treatment has been completed, it’s also important that patients learn what to expect next – whether it’s prolonged side effect management post-treatment or overcoming social barriers to get reacclimated with their normal life routines.

Managing emotional, spiritual and physical health is essential. This includes healthy lifestyle promotions through diet, exercise, and mind and body relaxation techniques.

Another essential element is to give patients guidance on who they should follow up with and ensure they are set up with primary care providers for normal health maintenance screenings and surveillance.

All of these things provide a layer of support that helps to make breast cancer a little less scary.

A diagnosis isn’t the end.

There is life beyond this diagnosis and many avenues that lead to survivorship from breast cancer or any cancer.

>> FREE SEMINAR: A UMC Town Hall on Breast Health and Cancer

Please join us on September 16 for a FREE Town Hall on Breast Health & Cancer, taking place from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the UMC Cancer Center. Come to this FREE event to discover the comprehensive services that UMC provides for breast health, meet experts in the field of breast health, learn about the latest diagnostic and treatment options, hear stories of survivorship and gain insights on the role that diet, exercise and nutrition play and much more!

Click here to register.