The reason why cancer is so disgusting is that in addition to the symptoms and life-changing changes brought about during treatment, the threat of cancer recurrence and spread also makes cancer patients feel hopeless. Professor Yan Jichang pointed out that head and neck cancer can affect the patient’s appearance, speech and eating functions, resulting in a decline in the quality of life, and head and neck cancer in non-early stages has a higher chance of recurrence. However, since the advent of immunotherapy, the standard treatment for advanced and recurrent head and neck cancer has changed, bringing new options for head and neck cancer patients. Immunotherapy can play an important role in the treatment of advanced head and neck cancer, helping to improve survival rates.
No smoking or drinking is also risky, it turns out that HPV is to blame
Head and neck cancer generally refers to malignant epidermal tumors (mainly squamous and undifferentiated epidermal carcinomas) located in the head and neck (including nasopharynx, sinuses, throat, vocal cords, tonsils, tongue, etc.). The most common causes of nasopharyngeal cancer in Hong Kong are related to “human herpesvirus type 4” (EB virus for short), and studies have also shown that it is related to smoking and preserved food.
Don’t think that if you don’t smoke or drink, there is no risk of developing head and neck cancer. Professor Yan noticed the changes in the past two decades. Head and neck cancer, especially tonsil cancer and oropharyngeal cancer, are gradually affected by HPV (ie human papilloma virus). influences. “When the virus continues to hide in the human body, it has the opportunity to cause cancer. In the United States, nearly 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are related to HPV. But the cancer caused by this virus is very special. However, patients tend to be younger, and they can also develop symptoms in their 30s and 40s. Fortunately, the cancer caused by this virus is sensitive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and early-stage patients can also remove the tumor with surgery alone.”
Increased Vigilance, Early Detection, Medical Advances, Less Side Effects
Most people tend to confuse early symptoms of throat or oropharyngeal cancer with symptoms of throat inflammation and delay seeking medical attention. “Thyroid cancer, oral cancer, vocal cord cancer, etc., because the location of the tumor can be observed or palpated, and the early symptoms caused by the tumor include hoarseness or oral pain, as long as the alertness is high, it is easier to find out if you seek medical treatment early.”
Professor Yan pointed out that early-stage head and neck cancers can be treated with surgery alone (oropharyngeal or oral cancer), or radiation therapy (such as nasopharyngeal cancer), and the cure rate is very high. Regarding the fear of causing other head and neck cancers due to radiation problems, Prof. Yan said that the treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer requires high-dose radiation therapy, which is indeed difficult to avoid. However, with the advancement of medicine, new technologies have been developed in today’s radiation therapy, which can narrow the scope of treatment more precisely and help reduce the risk of other head and neck cancers caused by radiation.
Rapid Advances in Cancer Treatment, Combination Therapy Improves Quality of Life
Most patients with non-early head and neck cancer require surgery and adjuvant chemoradiotherapy, or high-dose radiation therapy and concurrent chemotherapy, which may cause patients to lose important daily functions, such as speaking, eating, and swallowing. Prof. Yan lamented: “Some patients need traumatic surgery, which has the opportunity to affect their appearance, make patients feel inferior, affect interpersonal relationships, and become depressed.”
But he continued to share: “Fortunately, the development of treatment technologies in various aspects has also made great progress. For example, surgery has developed to the help of robotic arms, which can remove tumors more thoroughly and accurately. Coupled with the new development of plastic surgery, tumor removal can also be done at the same time. Preserving the original state and function of the organ.” He also mentioned the targeted therapy that has emerged in the past decade. “Targeted therapy combined with radiation therapy in early-stage patients, as well as chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy, is more effective than radiation therapy alone. However, the former is less toxic and can reduce the suffering of patients. With targeted therapy and concurrent radiation therapy, older patients are easier to deal with.”
In recent years, another new term has appeared in the medical field: immunotherapy. As a representative of head and neck cancer researchers, Professor Yan is pleased to see the breakthrough of immunotherapy in head and neck cancer. “For some patients who cannot receive radical treatment, we found that the combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy is more effective than the combination of targeted therapy and chemotherapy. The mechanism of immunotherapy is to train the body’s own immune cells to attack tumors. Some studies have pointed out that certain For some head and neck cancer patients with strong immune system, the effect of single immunotherapy is even better than that of targeted therapy combined with chemotherapy, and it has fewer side effects. major trend.”
It is hoped that immunotherapy can be widely used to benefit more cancer patients
However, the cost of newer drugs, such as immunotherapy, may not be affordable for everyone. Prof. Yan said: “We need to use a concept of precision treatment to classify patients and find out which patients are most likely to benefit through effective biomarkers.” He pointed out that if suitable patients do not have the financial ability, he hopes the government Even pharmaceutical companies can provide some funding to help patients get through this difficult time. “Immunotherapy is very important for some patients with advanced head and neck cancer. It can help improve their survival rate and bring less side effects than other treatments.” Prof. Yan believes that if the cost of medical resources can be reduced due to fewer side effects, the The overall social cost remains favorable. He expects that immunotherapy will be more widely used in the future to benefit more suitable cancer patients.
This article was produced with the support of MSD to encourage public awareness of health information.HK-KEY-00469 MAY/2022