What to Know About Throat Cancer

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Ron Winslow

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Chairman and Chief Executive James Dimon is one of about 50,000 people in the U.S. who will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer this year.

Mr. Dimon was recently diagnosed with throat cancer, which is considered a subset of the broader category of head and neck cancer. Throat cancer is a general term that describes tumors that occur at the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the wall of the throat or slightly lower in the throat, said Randall S. Weber, professor and chairman off the department of head and neck surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

The most common site is the base of the tongue or tonsil, he said.

Smoking history had most commonly been linked to the cancer, but with the decline in smoking among the U.S. population, exposure to the human papilloma virus is now the most common cause of the disease, Dr. Weber said.

For nonsmoking patients whose tumors test negative for HPV, the cancer could arise from yet little understood environmental or genetic causes, he said.

Dr. Weber said he isn't familiar with any details of Mr. Dimon's case and his comments reflect general knowledge of the disease.

Prognosis depends somewhat on the stage of the disease, he said, and is worse for patients with a significant smoking history. "For a person with throat cancer related to HPV with a minimal smoking history, the cure rate is 85% to 90," he said.

Treatment typically involves either surgery to remove the tumor, radiation or chemotherapy or some combination of the approaches. Surgery can result at least for a while in problems speaking or swallowing, so radiation and chemotherapy are often preferred approaches. Radiation and chemo or radiation alone generally provide "good disease control without removal of a lot of important and functional tissues," Dr. Weber said.

"The outcome for the tumors we're seeing today, the functional outcomes following treatment, is very good and the cure rate is very good," Dr. Weber said.

Write to Ron Winslow at ron.winslow@wsj.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires


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