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Expat Health Insurance News: New indicator could find those at highest risk of fatal throat cancer

Expat insurance customers may be able to benefit from a new way of telling whether oropharyngeal cancer sufferers are at an increased risk of the disease spreading throughout their body.

University of Michigan Health System researchers found those with lymph nodes that connected together – described as "matted" – have a 69 per cent three-year survival rate, compared with 94 per cent of those with these nodes separated, a study published online and in Head & Neck revealed.

This is independent of other factors, such as a history of smoking or infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which has been linked to this illness, as well as cancers of the anus, vulva, penis, cervix and vagina.

HPV-positive patients in the research had better outcomes overall than those without the virus, but matted nodes were linked to a higher risk among these individuals.

People with the best outcomes tended to be non-smokers who were HPV-positive.

The study involved analysis of 78 cancer patients who had either stage IV or III squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx – an area that includes the tonsils, throat, soft palate and back of the tongue.

All of the participants had not been treated previously and 16 were found to have matted nodes.

Subjects were treated with intensity-modulated radiation therapy alongside two cancer drugs.

Senior author of the study Douglas Chepeha, associate professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School, noted around 45 per cent of all deaths related to oropharyngeal carcinoma were due to the cancer spreading throughout the body.

"Our findings may help doctors identify patients who are at higher risk for having their cancer metastasize and who would benefit from additional systemic therapy," he added.

Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer include difficutly swallowing, a persistent sore throat, changes to the voice, unexplained weight-loss, pain in the ears and lumps in the mouth or neck.

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