Sunday, 10 March 2024 17:41

Confronting the Challenge - The Invisible Battles of Cancer Treatment

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The journey through cancer treatment is laden with challenges, both visible and invisible. Prof. Mererid Evans from the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff and the cancer and genetics division at Cardiff University shines a light on the harsh realities of battling head and neck cancer, a journey publicly chronicled by Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert following his diagnosis. Through their shared experiences, a new perspective on cancer treatment and its impacts is unveiled, showcasing...

Cancer Treatment - The Brutal Truth

The cancer treatment that Prof. Mererid Evans routinely prescribes to individuals who come to her hoping she will save their lives was once described by a patient as "brutal". This word, which deeply resonated with the professor, captures the difficulties encompassed by the treatment process. It was also the term used by Rhod Gilbert when he found himself in front of the consultant oncologist in 2022 after being diagnosed with cancer of the throat, neck, tongue, and tonsils.

Breaking the Taboo - Documenting the Treatment

The famous patient suddenly cast a spotlight on her consulting room at Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff when he decided to make a documentary about his treatment. "Rhod wanted something positive to come out of his experience," says Prof. Evans, a head and neck cancer specialist at Velindre Cancer Centre, a professor in the cancer and genetics division at Cardiff University, and the director of the Wales Cancer Research Centre.

The Channel 4 program, "A Pain in the Neck for SU2C", followed Gilbert through his diagnosis, treatment, and aftermath. Head and neck cancer is the eighth most common type of cancer in the UK, though it is two to three times more common in men, for whom it is the fourth most likely form.

Innovative Approaches to Treatment

Prof. Evans discovered that the comedian's treatment would be filmed a few days before it began. "I don't think he knew before he started how impactful recording his journey would be. I think it was something he wanted to do for himself because that's what he does," she added.

Even with a film crew present, Prof. Evans tried to maintain normalcy in their interactions. Gilbert underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy, treatments Prof. Evans described as "particularly difficult" for head and neck cancer.

The Importance of HPV Vaccination

Gilbert's cancer was caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), more commonly associated with cervical cancer. Prof. Evans participated in two studies on the prevalence of HPV-related cancers in men, which served as evidence for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to extend the HPV vaccination program to boys in 2019, a move she found "very rewarding to see".

Rhod Gilbert's journey through cancer treatment not only highlighted the brutality of the process but also showcased the strength and courage needed to navigate it. Thanks to Gilbert's openness and Prof. Evans' professionalism, light has been shed on the darker aspects of cancer treatment as well as the hope and progress in fighting the disease. It underscores the importance of continuing research, developing new treatment methods, and supporting education about vaccinations, such as those against HPV, which have the potential to reduce the incidence of certain types of cancer.

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