It isn’t commonly known, but head and neck cancers have quietly become the second fastest growing form of the disease in North America.
In an effort to combat this problem, the men and women behind the Manuary campaign are preparing for the fifth London event, in which the Head and Neck Surgery Department at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) aims to raise $25,000 to support ongoing research. That goal would surpass last year’s tally of $16,000.
Staff, medical residents, patients and members of the community will be sporting beards for the month of January — aka Manuary — in an effort to raise awareness and funds to advance research, education and patient care.
Dr. Leigh Sowerby, a head and neck surgeon at LHSC and one of the co-founders of Manuary five years ago, said the initiative was inspired by the success of Movember, which focuses on prostate cancer.
“We were having a drink at a pub in November, seeing the awareness that Movember has brought to prostate cancer,” Sowerby said. “We thought something like that needed to be done for head and neck cancer. There is no kind of national advocacy group . . . so we thought this could evolve into something like that.”
Men are four times more likely than women to be affected by head and neck cancer, which is the fifth most common cancer in North America. In addition, this disease is rapidly becoming more common in young men due to newly discovered associations with human papillomavirus (HPV).
Sowerby said head and neck cancers aren’t as common as breast or prostate, but they affect the things people take for granted in daily living.
Usually when someone is being treated for head and neck cancer they face complications in how they swallow, how they eat, how they speak, and even how they look.
“You can’t really hide the scars from the treatment of head and neck cancer as well as you can in other areas,” Sowerby said. “If you have a mastectomy or have your prostate out, you can still go around with life. If you have your voice box removed, it affects everything you do.”
The potentially devastating impact of treatment for head and neck cancers can be seen in a recent surgical advancement.
London is one of the training sites for Canada, and recently doctors have started using robotic surgery to help treat cancer at the back of the tongue and tonsils. Previously, if someone needed surgery in that area doctors would cut a split down the middle of the patient’s lip, their jaw was then split and swung over to the side. Not surprisingly, there was “a lot of consequences,” Sowerby said, in dividing all those muscles.
“By working through the mouth with this robot, it is another of those game-changers in terms of treating this cancer,” Sowerby said. “We have come a ways, but there is still a long way to go.”
To help in the battle for greater awareness — and funding — Manuary participants can sign up individually or as a team at www.Manuary.ca. From there they can encourage their friends, family and community to sponsor their beard growth via online or pledge donations.
To celebrate Manuary’s fifth year, and the joining of a fifth center to the campaign; Manuary Canada has initiated the $5 challenge, asking 5,000 bearded and unbearded supporters to make a contribution of $5 each. The center to raise the most money for 2015 will be the sole beneficiary of the Coast-to-Coast $5 Challenge.
The money that is raised in each of the participating centre’s — Halifax, Kingston, London, Saskatoon, and Edmonton — stays in that community to support research and patient care.
A shave-off event will be held on Friday, Jan. 2, at Sport Clips Haircuts in Hyde Park (1985 Hyde Park Rd.), getting underway at 9:15 a.m.