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In early December 2016, I felt a lump on the left side of my neck just below my jawbone. After a couple of visits to a local ENT, it was decided on December 22nd to conduct a biopsy of the lump. On December 27th the doctor called to inform me that the lump in my neck is cancer. :( Needless to say, I've had better days.
The biopsy determined that the tumor in my neck is squamous cell carcinoma and is lodged in a lymph node. Squamous cells are flat cells found in various parts of the body (e.g., your skin, lungs and in the lining of all hollow organs like the throat, esophagus, stomach, intestines) but not in the neck or lymph nodes. So, that means the tumor in my neck is not the primary tumor ... the cancer must be coming from somewhere else in the body where squamous cells exist and has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.
With the help of many friends, I began to work the healthcare process to specifically determine the primary tumor/cancer and the cause. A PET scan was conducted on December 29th to see where else the cancer may exist in me. When a squamous cell tumor shows up on the neck it nearly always originates from the throat or specifically the oropharynx (which generally consists of your base of tongue and tonsils). Fortunately, the PET determined that the cancer was not coming from anywhere below the neck. However, the primary tumor in the throat is so small that it too did not show up in the PET.
After further consultations with doctors at Wellstar and Emory, the official diagnosis is called HPV-mediated, oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma with unknown primary. This is a fancy way of saying that I have throat cancer where the primary tumor still needs to be found in the throat.
The most interesting part of all of this is the cause for the cancer. For this type of cancer, a person either gets it by being a heavy smoker for many years, or ... it is caused by human papilloma virus (HPV). Most people know of HPV as a virus women are tested for because it causes cervical cancer. However, HPV can also exist in the throat of people and has been on the rise over the last 30 years. Moreover, the virus can exist dormant in someone for up to 20 years before becoming active so it is nearly impossible to know how or when someone contracted HVP. Interestingly, the most common demographic for contracting HPV-mediated throat cancer is white males in their forties or fifties who don't have a history of smoking.