by Krystal Paco
Guam - Hundreds of people attended the Guam Medical Association's Pacific Cancer Conference this past weekend, learning about the latest information about cancer and how it's affecting many on our island. On Monday a cancer forum was hosted by the Guam Regional Medical City and Guam Cancer Care hoping to spread the word about various types of cancer that are impacting island residents.
Early detection of any cancer is key. At Monday's "Saving Lives Through Cancer Screening" forum, the Medical City's head and neck surgeon, Dr. Daniel Alonzo, reiterated just that. "The outcomes in the treatments is much better. the difference between stage one which has a 90 percent cure rate versus stage four which has a 20 percent survival rate," he said.
Dr. Alonzo says head and neck cancers are prevalent in Guam, many thanks to smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, HPV, and betel nut chewing. "There are a lot of carcinogens or cancer causing substances in beetle nut and all the other things they put in the betel nut, and it causes a lot things in the lining of the mouth, the tongue, and the throat, which leads to cancer," he said.
He adds it's not just about educating doctors on the cancers and their symptoms, but the general public as early detection is key to survival. "Sometimes the symptoms may not be bothersome but you have to go see a doctor we have to educate the doctors because once they see something like this something has to be done to diagnose it," he said.
Symptoms often include fullness in one ear, ringing in one ear, nose bleeds, nose obstruction, mouth sores, a lump in mouth or throat, a sore throat, pain or discomfort when swallowing, change in the quality of voice, or lump the head or neck region. Cancers in this particular region can be especially difficult for patients to cope with as many suffer from depression due to the change in physical appearance and basic bodily functions.
"It has a very big impact because most of the functions in this area are affected. Our ability to speak, our ability to swallow, to smell, to hear, and especially the appearance it's really going to affect how people look," he said.
Due to the complexity of the region, head and neck cancers always require multidisciplinary treatment to include not only head and neck surgeons, but reconstructive surgeons, dentists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, pain specialists, rehabilitation specialists, and psychiatrists to help cope with the accompanied depression.