Friday, September 3, 2010

Michael Douglas Has Oropharyngeal Cancer

Michael Douglas announced he has"stage IV throat cancer" on late night TV this week.  Any announcement of cancer causes people to stop and take a deep breath but the idea of throat cancer is particularly scary.  So what exactly is throat cancer?  How is it diagnosed and treated? 

The clinical term is oropharyngeal cancer that involves the base of the tongue, the mouth, the tonsils, or the front and back walls of the throat.  Michael Douglas says he has a walnut-size tumor at the base of his tongue.  This is actually a pretty common site and it is usually caused by smoking or chewing tobacco.  The combination of smoking and alcohol use increases the risk and we know that Mr. Douglas battled alcohol addiction and smoking years ago.  There has been a steady increase in oral cancer and recent studies show the cause is infection with human papillomavirus (HPV).  Sixty percent of all oropharyngeal cancers are associated with the virus.

Cancers that start at the base of the tongue are often painless and they are often advanced when diagnosed. Any change in the voice, difficulty talking or swallowing or a growth in the mouth that lasts longer than 3 weeks should be checked out by a physician.  Ear pain that lasts could be from the base of the tongue and should be check out. Many mouth cancers are found by a dentist doing a mouth exam.

Stage IV cancer, like Michael Douglas reports,  has spread to tissues near the oropharynx or has spread to one or more lymph nodes.  Stage IVC  cancer has spread to other parts of the body.  Treatment for Stage IV is usually surgery followed by radiation therapy and possibly chemotherapy.

The treatment for oropharyngeal cancer is pretty brutal and Michael Douglas is in for a long haul.  Fortunately he has a good chance of beating it (60%) if the cancer hasn't spread to the lymph nodes.

I loved him in Wall Street ("Money never sleeps, pal") and remember the chiller, Fatal Attraction, when Glenn Close stalked him after his indiscretion?  Romancing the Stone made him and Kathleen Turner big stars.    His film career is long and I certainly hope he beats this terrible diagnosis.

There is no screening test for head and neck cancer.  I don't need to say stop smoking, do I? 

16 comments:

KM said...

Do you also remember him from "The Streets of San Francisco"?

tracy said...

i loved him as the super Psychiatrist in "Don't Say a Word".
With Brittany Murphy, Rest in Peace. <3

becomingkate said...

I quit smoking three years ago, but still worry about illness down the road. My thoughts are with him and his family.

Michal said...

I loved him !!
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Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

It's sobering how little progress the medical profession has made in many cancers. Our diagnostic abilities far outdistance effective treatments. We need prevention. Let's hope that the research on vaccinations gains traction. One day, cancer will be regarded as we regard smallpox.

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