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Interview with James Freije, MD about head and neck cancers

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Medical Minute; 3:02

Dave Kurten: The 3WZ Medical Minute is brought to you by Mount Nittany Medical Center. Our topic this week is head and neck cancer. Our guest is James Freije, MD. Thanks for joining us today.

Dr. Freije: Thank you.

Dave Kurten: What are some types of head and neck cancers?

Dr. Freije: Most of the time, head and neck cancer refers to cancers in the oral cavity in the mouth, or in the pharynx around the tonsils or in the tongue. Cancers can also occur in the voice box. There are rarer cancers that can occur in the sinuses and in the salivary glands. And they’re sort of all bunched in together as head and neck cancer.

Dave Kurten: What are some of the symptoms that indicate you may have head or neck cancer?

Dr. Freije: One of the problems with these cancers is – especially the ones that occur deeper in the throat – is that you can’t see them, so it’s not uncommon for a tumor to get fairly large before people become symptomatic. An example would be Michael Douglas, who had a cancer in his tongue base, and he had symptoms for quite a while before they identified it. So, it’s difficult to see. The lesions in the mouth are non-healing lesions that get bigger, rather than smaller. Some people have enlarged lymph nodes. About 50 percent of people who’ve had neck cancer – their first symptom is an enlarged lymph node that contains cancer cells.

Dave Kurten: What are the causes of head and neck cancer?

Dr. Freije: The most common cause for head and neck cancer is smoking and heavy drinking, or a combination of the two. And traditionally, we almost never saw cancers in nonsmokers. I think that things have changed a little bit – maybe not in the incidence of cancers in people who don’t smoke – but we’re identifying some other risk factors. And one of the specific risk factors is the human papillomavirus, and it acts in a similar way that it does in the cervix. So cervical cancer is related to HPV infections, and in the oral cavity and in the throat, we’ve seen patients with cancer that is caused by an HPV infection.

Dave Kurten: What services does Mount Nittany Physician Group provide for head and neck cancer?

Dr. Freije: We provide the full range of treatment, which includes surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In years past, surgery was the first line of treatment for almost everybody. It’s more common now for people to get radiation and chemotherapy in combination, and then have surgery as a fallback if the tumor does not respond to the medical treatment.

Dave Kurten: Where can community members get more information about the head and neck cancer services at the Mount Nittany Physician Group?

Dr. Freije: Well, they can certainly call the hospital and the Mount Nittany health center can direct people. In our office – we have an office in Boalsburg – we recently became the Mount Nittany Physician Group, so we’re intimately connected to the hospital. My office is in Boalsburg, and we’d be happy to see anybody who has any concerns.

Dave Kurten: Dr. James Freije has been our guest on this edition of the Medical Minute. Thank you for your time.

Dr. Freije: Thank you.

Dave Kurten: The 3WZ Medical Minute is brought to you by Mount Nittany Medical Center. Mount Nittany Life Forward.


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