Tag Archive for: HPV

What Do Patients Need to Know About Head and Neck Cancer Research?

What Do Patients Need to Know About Head and Neck Cancer Research? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is there developing research that head and neck cancer patients should know about? Dr. Jessica Geiger explains how treatment approaches are evolving and how patients can stay up-to-date on the latest advances.

Dr. Jessica Geiger is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Geiger

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Katherine Banwell:

Cancer research is developing rapidly. What are you excited about when it comes to head and neck cancer research? 

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

Well, I think there’s a lot of different clinical trials that are coming out in what we call the neo-adjuvant space so before you go for a surgery. Again, head and neck cancer is a little bit different when we think of other more common cancers. 

And what I mean by that is it’s one thing to be able to surgically remove cancer or to ablate it completely with radiation. The problem with the head and neck area as you can imagine, it’s such a small area. There’s a lot of precious real estate there, as I always describe to patients. And so, it’s one thing to cure the cancer, to cut it out completely. But then we have functional and sometimes cosmetic concerns after that, too. So, I think one of the biggest things that we are always trying to look to be successful in is are there therapies, are there treatments where we can shrink down the initial cancer so that the resulting surgery or the fields of radiation are not so severe? So, we’re maintaining the cure rates that we have. We’re improving on the cure rates that we have. But also thinking about how can we improve the quality of life and the function and the cosmetic outcome after their cancer treatment? And I think that’s really exciting. 

Katherine Banwell:

It is. It’s great.  And I’m sure there’s been so much development in the field, even in the last 10 years. 

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

There has. And another comment to make on that point, too, when we’re thinking about clinical trials especially. There’s really two big subsets of squamous cell cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, and that’s HPV-positive that’s related to the HPV, the human papilloma virus and HPV-negative. HPV-negative is what we think of historically as being caused by years of smoking often with heavy drinking. That’s kind of the traditional head and neck cancer patient. But over the last couple of decades now, there’s a completely different disease that we have recognized. And that’s related to HPV. And these patients tend to be light or never smokers at all. They tend to be younger, different demographic of patients. The good news is those cancers seem to respond better to cancer treatment, particularly radiation- and chemotherapy-based. 

So, as I mentioned before, trying a neo-adjuvant approach to kind of reduce the impact of surgery or the impact of radiation, particularly with HPV-related disease. We know that it’s a different disease that behaves much better than HPV-negative. So, trying clinical trials to what we call de-intensify therapy. So, maintaining the high cure rate. But reducing the toxicities related to treatment so that – you know, these are younger patients. They’re cured of their cancer. But they still require a feeding tube. Or they have a lot of chronic pain in the neck. They have a lot of morbidity with the treatment. And so, trying to reduce that down to again, maintain high cure rates, but help with quality of life in the years to come. 

Katherine Banwell:

How can patients stay up-to-date on developing research? 

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

That’s a really good question. 

Every once in a while, there are sound bites or news articles that are kind of in the mainstream press and in the mainstream news. I would just encourage patients to – if they read something or see a headline to reach out to their oncology team and have a discussion. What is this research? What does it mean for me? Does it apply to me? How is this information being used for cancer treatment? How would this impact my treatment or my follow up? It’s really hard to kind of navigate through what is, in terms of research, what is immediately clinically impactful or clinically meaningful at that time. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are there any websites that you recommend to patients? 

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

The American Head and Neck Society has a good website. And there’s a couple of other, depending on what state you live in or regions of certain states.  

There’s a lot of different support groups for head and neck cancer patients that I would encourage patients to reach out. Because especially in the regional, geographic location where you are, it may be worthwhile to be able to have those conversations. Because you can walk down the street and not know if somebody’s had it. But I’ve had more patients over the last several months, especially HPV-related disease patients who have mentioned something to me along the lines of, “I had mentioned to an acquaintance or a friend of a friend. And suddenly, I know three or four other people who have had this cancer. And I had no idea. And now we’re talking about how we have to carry a water bottle with us all the time because we can’t swallow dry foods. And how we have to be very mindful of what we’re eating when we order at a restaurant.” And so, just trying to navigate a bigger world, narrowing it down to where you live to have those meaningful contacts of other patients who have gone through what you have gone through. 

November 2021 Notable News

Cancer research has come a long way in the last half century. Each month there is an amazing amount of new knowledge. There’s new information this month about childhood cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and a couple of vaccines. The research and advances we learn about each month are due in large part to the programs and systems that resulted from the National Cancer Act of 1971.

National Cancer Act of 1971

Fifty years ago, a few days before Christmas, President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is commemorating the anniversary at cancer.gov. The act established networks of cancer centers, clinical trials, data collection systems, and advanced research. As an amendment to the Public Health Service Act of 1944, by signing the act, Nixon declared a war on cancer. The bill expanded the authority of the director of the NCI and made possible many of the present-day advances in cancer research. Learn more about the National Cancer Act of 1971 and the impact it has had over the past 50 years here.

HPV Vaccine

One of the accomplishments noted by the NCI is the HPV vaccine. The vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV) is reducing the number of cervical cancer cases by almost 90 percent, says bbc.com. Almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV, and cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide. More than 100 countries are using the vaccine to help in the World Health Organization’s goal to eliminate cervical cancer. With such positive results in the United Kingdom, the hope is that the vaccine will have an even bigger impact in lower income countries. Read more here.

Covid-19 Vaccines

Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective for most cancer patients, reports usnews.com. In a study that included more than 1,000 vaccinated cancer patients, researchers found that the vaccines were effective in protecting cancer patients from severe Covid-19. Patients who had been treated with chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, or corticosteroids had a weaker immune response, but still benefited from the vaccine’s protection. Cancer patients had similar side effects as healthy vaccine recipients. Get more information here.

Pancreatic Cancer Detection

Researchers have identified two additional symptoms of pancreatic cancer that could help with earlier detection of the disease, reports webmd.com. The newly identified symptoms are feeling thirsty and having dark urine, and they are associated with the most common type of pancreatic cancer. Other symptoms include problems swallowing, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, abdominal swelling, tiredness, constipation, back pain, itching, loss of appetite, change in bowel habits, indigestion, abdominal pain, abdominal mass, nausea, flatulence, heartburn, and fever. Patients can have symptoms for up to a year before diagnosis. Get more information here.

Gut Microbiome and Prostate Cancer

A new study shows that there might be a link between the gut microbiome and deadly prostate cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com. Researchers analyzed different metabolites in the blood serum of study participants and found a connection between aggressive prostate cancer and three of the metabolites. The metabolites, phenylacetylglutamine, choline, and betaine, are either produced by the gut or found in some foods. The metabolites are mostly found in meat and animal products, but also in beans, nuts, and diet sodas with aspartame. Men with high levels of choline or betaine were two times more likely to die of prostate cancer, and men with high levels of phenylacetylglutamine were 2.5 times more likely to die of prostate cancer. Learn more about the study here.

Childhood Cancer Survivors

Childhood cancer survivors tend to have higher risk of lifelong health problems, reports medicalxpress.com. A new study shows that the type of cancer and how the cancer was treated can affect the type of health issues survivors will have later in life. Researchers found that people who were treated with chemotherapy and radiation were most likely to experience later health problems. The lowest risk was for people who were treated only with surgery. Researchers say the long-term health effects should be considered when discussing treatment options for young people with cancer. Learn more about the study and watch an animated video that explains the study in an easy-to-understand manner here.

Here’s hoping that we will have more preventive vaccines and life-saving measures before the passing of the next 50 years.