We are all familiar with Movember and Breast Cancer awareness month, but Manuary is still relatively unheard of. In January, men will be growing their beards, and women will be Photoshopping them on, to support and increase awareness of head and neck cancer, the fifth most common cancer worldwide. It is rapidly becoming more common in younger patients due to newly discovered associations with human papillomavirus (HPV). Although head and neck cancer occurs in men and women, men are approximately four times more likely to suffer from the disease.
Head and neck cancers affect the throat, mouth, tongue, voice box, and nasal cavities. Although head and neck cancer is a type of cancer that responds well to treatment if caught early, the majority of cases present themselves at an advanced stage, so it can be quite devastating–something that could be prevented with increased awareness. Celebrities such as Michael Douglas and Roger Ebert have helped increase some awareness, but much more is needed to make sure that these cancers are caught early.
Connections with HPV
“We know 80 per cent of some of these cancers are caused by a virus – the human papilloma virus — which is the same kind of virus that causes cervical cancer in women,” says Dr. Leigh Sowerby, an Otolaryngologist – Head and Neck Surgeon and founder of the Manuary campaign.
According to an unpublished study done at the Western University, the five-year survival rate for viral-related cancer is 82 percent compared with 53 percent for nonviral-related cancer. The treatment, whether viral or nonviral will still be the same: radiation and chemotherapy along with some surgery. Unfortunately, the treatments all have side effects, such as burnt tissue, redness, inflammation of the lining of the mouth, permanent dry mouth, weight loss and difficulty swallowing, and sometimes loss of hearing. Taste buds can also be permanently damaged in some cases and depending on severity and surgery needed, there may also be some disfigurement and impairment.
This same study mentions that “given the trends that have been observed and the approximately forty year lag time between infection and manifestation of the disease, means that HPV-positive cancer will be a problem for the foreseeable future.”
Dr. Anthony Nichols, director of the Translational Head and Neck Cancer Research Program and Assistant Professor, Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, Western University explained it to me this way:
“There are two existing HPV vaccines – gardasil (Merck) and Cervarix (GlaxoSmithKline). Both vaccines cover the HPV type 16 that is responsible for 90% of head and neck cancers. The vaccine only works prophylatically before infection which is why it’s ideally given to grade school children before they become sexually active. It is not effective at all once someone has developed a cancer. Other groups are working on a therapeutic vaccine. Although the vaccine is approved for boys and girls, it is only funded for girls in Ontario. This is because it prevents cervical cancer but we do not yet know for sure if it prevents head and neck cancer due to the long time lag between infection (which typically occurs in teens and twenties) and development of head and neck cancer at an average age of 55 in Southwestern Ontario. The London Health Sciences Centre group is leading the way in head and neck cancer research through several recent discoveries.”
This means awareness, education, and research are very important. Hopefully, through this awareness we can overcome the misconceptions—especially those related to young women–about the vaccine and decrease the rates of HPV-related disease in the future.
Fortunately, a group of dedicated Doctors from London Ontario decided to get together two years ago and started Manuary to see if they could help raise awareness, and at the same time give men a chance to grow out a beard and raise some money for head and neck cancer treatment and research. This research will help create better vaccines, screening methods, and treatment protocols to enhance the quality of life of the cancer patient.
My husband was diagnosed with head and neck cancer three and a half years ago and went through all of the above treatment. He was lucky, it was caught very early and although he did have some surgery, he did not have any disfigurement or impairment. The side effects he experienced then and continues to experience now are all related to the radiation therapy.
He is joining the Manuary campaign so that he can put a “face” to the cancer, so to speak – one of the other side effects he experienced is that he has very patchy beard growth on the one side of his face [radiation side]. He would welcome the chance to explain why he is growing a patchy beard in order to raise awareness for this cancer that can be quite devastating.
So if you are male or female, please consider joining the campaign to raise awareness and hopefully we will see a lot of furry faces around in January!
Ladies, you can send in a photo and they will ‘beard it up’ or you can join in with a fake beard. Your support and awareness can really help get the message out.
If you’re interested in running a Manuary event near you, please contact the campaign and they will help you get started.
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To donate to the campaign, please click here.