Cobb firefighter battles cancer linked to common virus

Cobb firefighter battles cancer linked to common virus

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It's Frank Summers job on the Cobb County Fire Department’s technical rescue team, to be ready for tough moments no one is really ready for. Summers says, “it's a fantastic job because you've got a great group of guys who want to do something, and you sit around and give each other a hard time, and laugh a lot, and goof off. And then something happens and you go take care of it."

That “do-something” approach may have saved Summers, back in 2011, when he felt a lump in his neck while shaving. He says, “Unfortunately, I was 45, and a man, and didn't have a doctor."

But he saw one quickly. In fact, he saw 3 doctors in 4 days. The diagnosis was stunning. He says, “I didn’t smoke, I ate well, I was very healthy, I've always exercised…"

But Summers was diagnosed with a tumor in one of his tonsils, and the cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes. The cause: HPV, the human papillomavirus, a family of viruses that cause warts.

The CDC says HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted disease in the U.S.

Most women know strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer.

But Dr. Trad Wadsworth, one of Emory's top Ear Nose and Throat cancer surgeons says doctors are seeing a big jump in men in their 40s and 50s like Frank, with HPV-related cancers in the back of their throat and tonsils.

The reason? Dr. Wadsworth says, “Difficult to explain. I think if you've ever had a wart in your life, you've been exposed to HPV of some sort, but there are over 120 types of HPV that exist. And only one accounts for the majority of head and neck cancers."

Summers went through surgery, and then months of grueling chemotherapy and radiation at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute. And since his diagnoses, he says, he's heard of four other Cobb firefighters - all in their forties - diagnosed with head and neck cancers tied to H-P-V. So, he feels men need to know they’re at-risk, and they need to know the symptoms.

So what should you look for? Dr. Wadsworth says, “The 5 things we always ask patients are (1) do they have a sore throat. (2) Do they have difficulty swallowing? (3) Do they have ear pain? (4) Hoarseness? Or (5) are they losing weight unexpectedly? And if any of those symptoms go on about two weeks without improvement? They need to be seen."

Frank Summers is now three years out, with no evidence of cancer. And he says his experience - has taught him - it's life's small moments – the here and the now – that really matter. He says, “It's the normalcy, and the decency of my everyday life. I'm very aware of how important that is, and I cherish that without the dramatics."

The Emory University Department of Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose and Throat) will hold a FREE head and neck cancer screening clinic on Friday, April 25th. It will be on the 9th floor of the Emory University Hospital Midtown office tower, in suite 550. The screening will be held from 8am to 12pm, and walk-ins are welcome.

ENTs will be screening people, and volunteers and head and neck cancer survivors will also be there.

For information, contact Meryl Kaufman at

Email:

meryl.kaufman@emoryhealthcare.org

Phone #:

(404) 778-3456

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