Saturday, April 16, 2005

World Voice Day

vocal cord examApril 16th is a special day.  Aside from being the day after taxes are due, is is World Voice Day.  I learned about this from the University of Michigan Health System news release web site.  About ten thousand new cases of laryngeal cancer are diagnosed each year, and each year brings 3,770 deaths from the disease.  Those are not big numbers, in context, compared to lung, intestinal, and breast cancer.  However, there is a very good reason for designating a day to remind people of this illness.  The reason is that many early cases are overlooked.  Obviously, the medical profession is very interested in anything that can lead to early case detection. 

In cases of laryngeal cancer, early detection can be simple. The most frequent early symptom is hoarseness.  Although hoarseness is a nonspecifica symptom, and the vast majority of instances of hoarseness are not due to cancer, it is important to take the symptom seriously if it persists for more than a few days, particularly if ther are no associated symptoms to suggest an upper respiratory tract infection.  This is especially true if the person has risk factors.  Smoking tobacco, and heavy drinking, are the biggest risk factors.  Smoking and drinking are particularly bad when they occur together. 

The diagnosis involves a medical exam, during which the vocal cords are examined visually.  This is not easy to do, so it often means a referral to a specialist.  In the Ann Arbor area, we happen to have very good ENT departments at the UM hospital, and at St. Joseph Mercy.