After having chronic sinus problems, Glenn Moog noticed a small bump on his neck. He thought his lymph nodes were swollen. About five months after noticing it, he visited his doctor.
“She felt it and said, ‘Now, I don’t like the way this feels. You need to get a scan right away,'” Moog, 57, of Columbus, Ohio, tells TODAY.com. me that I had stage 4 cancer.”
HPV, the human papilloma virus, caused the cancer on the base of Moog’s tongue. A lump in the neck due to a swollen lymph node slowly enlarging is a common symptom of cancer of the mouth, according to Cancer Research UK.
Doctors see an increase in head and neck cancer from HPV, so Moog shares his story.
“To be honest, I had never heard of HPV,” he says. “I was a little surprised.” Sinus problems and a growing lump
In mid-2017, Moog noticed the lump on his neck, but thought it was just his lymph node helping him with his chronic sinus issues.
“I just thought… it was a swollen lymph node, no big deal, and over time it just kept getting bigger and bigger,” he says. “I kept thinking, ‘Oh well, it’s just a lymph node fighting off the infection.'”
After about five months, however, the lump persisted. Then he visited the doctor and underwent a scan to find out more about it. When I learned he had stage 4 cancer, it felt overwhelming.
“I (felt) scared, helpless. I don’t remember exactly. I felt unprepared,” he says. “I didn’t really know what to do now.”
He shuffled from doctor to doctor to understand the treatment plan. Early on, doctors knew that HPV caused Moog’s cancer, and that influenced his treatment plan, which included 35 radiation treatments and five rounds of chemotherapy over seven weeks.
“I probably reacted worse than most,” says Moog. “I thought I would be able to continue eating and functioning, and I was literally put on the couch for six to eight months.”
Although Moog’s cancer was found to be stage 4, his doctors thought it was treatable.
“(My cancer doctors) said, ‘We caught this pretty early. It’s a slow-growing cancer. If you get this treatment, we have a high success rate,’ he recalls. pain to reach the end.
After treatment, Moog was cancer-free. But the side effects of the head and neck radiation continued, and he still had trouble eating and swallowing.
“As I got more radiation, my throat kept burning more and I kept eating less. And then they finally said, “You’re losing too much weight too fast,” he says. “I had to get a stomach tube to eat because I couldn’t swallow anymore.”
HPV-related head and neck cancer
Doctors have seen an increase in head and neck cancers caused by HPV, which can also cause cervical cancer, Dr. Matthew Old, director of the Department of ENT, Head and Neck Surgery, at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, TODAY.com. Most people are infected with HPV when they begin sexual activity, and there is a “considerable lag time” from then until a head or neck cancer due to HPV develops, Old explains.
HPV infects the tonsils or the back of the tongue, which is where HPV-related cancers are found. The increase in cases is due to the development of cancer in people between 40 and 65 who were too old to be vaccinated against HPV, he adds.
“We will continue to see an increase in the incidence of this cancer for about 20 years before we see the benefits of vaccination,” says Old.
People with HPV often don’t know they have it because they don’t have symptoms, says Old. HPV-related head and neck cancers also don’t have many symptoms associated with them.
“The most common symptom people have is a neck mass or lump on the side of the neck,” he says.
Other signs may include:
- A long lasting sore in their mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Changes in their voice
- Weight loss
“Symptoms that last for more than two weeks, that’s when people really need to be checked by their GP or an ear, nose, and throat specialist,” says Old.
HPV-related head and neck cancers are more treatable than cancers in these parts of the body that are not caused by HPV. But because HPV cancer patients usually live longer, they may also have to deal with the unpleasant side effects of the treatment for longer.
Treatment may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Doctors try to avoid radiation if possible, because radiation has lasting effects, such as difficulty swallowing or loss of taste.
Old encourages people to vaccinate their children against HPV and get the shots themselves if they still qualify. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says some adults up to age 45 can still get vaccinated if they hadn’t in the past.
“Most people think, ‘Oh no, there’s no way[an HPV infection]could have happened to me,'” he says. But HPV infections are incredibly common and few people remain aware that they’ve been exposed, he adds.
“First, there’s a lack of education and in turn awareness, and two, it’s been taboo to talk about it, and third, the infections happen at much younger ages in life, especially if you don’t think about:” What am I? Will I be like when I’m 40, 50, 60?’” says Old.
Advocate for vaccines
Moog had never heard of the HPV vaccine until he was diagnosed with cancer. He encourages children and young adults to get vaccinated to avoid getting cancer like he did.
“I don’t think people really understand what chemo and radiation do to the body and mind,” he says. “You’re almost a shell of a person.”
But despite the difficulties he faces, “I’m glad I’m alive,” he says.