Challenges Faced by Patients with Head and Neck Cancer [Interview] [Transcript]

Dr_Dhiren_Shah_Head-and-neck-cancerGuest: Dr. Dhiren K. Shah
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Dr. Dhiren K. Shah is a board-certified radiation oncologist. He graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Lehigh University and completed his radiation oncology training at Robert Wood Johnson/Cooper Hospital in New Jersey. He is a member of many clinical societies, including the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, is a fellow of the American College of Radiation Oncology and is the vice chair for the prestigious New York State Board of Medicine.

Segment overview: In this segment, Dr. Dhiren K. Shah discusses the unique challenges facing patients with head and neck cancer and also talks about “Your Cancer Game Plan”, a new awareness campaign focused on helping people with cancer and their loved ones tackle their emotional, nutritional and communication needs.

Health Professional Radio – Head and Neck Cancer


Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to the program. I’m your host Neal Howard, thank you for joining us here today on Health Professional Radio. Our guest in studio is Dr. Dhiren Shah, radiation oncologist of Cancer Care of Western New York and he is here today to discuss with us some of the unique challenges that patients suffering from head or neck cancer face. He’s also here to talk about Your Cancer Game Plan, a new awareness campaign that focuses on helping people with cancer and their loved ones tackle of their emotional, nutritional, and their communications needs. Welcome to Health Professional Radio Dr. Shah.

Dr. Dhiren Shah: Thank you very much Mr. Howard.

N: Thanks for coming in today. I’d like to let our listeners in on a little bit of your background. Have you always been interested in cancer and radiation as it relates to cancer?

S: Well the story actually goes back prior to medical school. Growing up, I always had a fond interest in Math and Physics so I pursued electrical engineering in my undergraduate degree and actually worked for short time at IBM in Bell Labs. At that time, I decided while I was working there, while I love the technical aspects of electrical engineering, I wanted to do something that was more directly related to helping people and I decided to go to medical school. While in medical school, I really enjoyed the interaction with patients, but I also wanted to go into a special piece that took with allow me to utilize my skills in Physics and Math, and that’s how I discovered radiation oncology because it really has a lot of technical aspects to it, but it also allows a lot of direct patient care.

N: Why head and neck cancer specifically?

S: Well head and neck cancer is a very challenging type of cancer. As you can imagine in the head and neck area, there is very sophisticated anatomy. There are a lot of really important structures kind of compacted into a small area of the body. It poses very significant challenges when treating it because you want to treat the areas of the cancer, but you also have to be a very cognizant at there a lots of critical structures next to those areas of cancer that can be affected by your treatment. It’s a very challenging area of treatment for radiation oncologists.

N: Is there a huge number of patients suffering from cancers of the head and neck? Or is this a rarity?

S: Head and neck cancer is a not a rarity, about 60,000 cases a year. Traditionally, it has been affecting patients who have had smoking history or alcohol intake history. But in the modern era today, it’s affecting more and more patients who are non-smoking and alcohol related because of the human papilloma virus which is a virally contracted cancer that can occur.

N: The human papilloma virus, I was on the impression that, that was something that it’s sexually transmitted?

S: And you are absolutely correct Mr. Howard. It is a sexually transmitted process and now, it’s being transmitted as well, sexually transmitted to the head and neck area and possibly through sole salivary contact as well.

N: What is it about head and neck cancer? You did explain that there are some challenges as far as the anatomy of the head and neck is concerned. But where cancer is concerned, what are the star differences between suffering from head and neck cancer as opposed to some other type of cancer?

S: Well it’s a very good question. The reason is that, for obvious reasons, in other parts of the body say breast cancer, or lung cancer, or other. Those areas of the bodies are oces that are not apparent to other people. Head and neck cancer is very unique and that it affects our daily lives, in things that we’re so used to doing and taking for granted everyday such as eating, right? Speaking that involves the mouth, our facial appearance, something that we take for granted. If somebody has a cancer underneath clothing, they can hide it. But in the head and neck area, it is very obvious sometimes. That’s why it’s so important because of these daily functions that we take for granted that patients are aware of the resources that are out there. Such as that focuses on three really important areas of head and neck cancer including the communication areas, the nutrition areas, and the positive attitudes that is necessary to combat a cancer of the head and neck area.

N: When you’re talking about, I guess it compasses all areas that are affected, psychological areas as far as your appearance and the things that you aren’t able to do and take for granted anymore. Also, what about the family members that are involved with someone suffering from head and neck cancer, does is initiative Your Cancer Game Plan address some of the psychological as well as some of the caregiver aspects of dealing with this patient?

S: Absolutely. Some of the things and resources that are available on involve things that are so important such as nutrition. Because if I’m going to treatment for head and neck cancer, nutrition is significantly affected and there are portals to different support groups and suggestions for dietary intake that are available on Patients that can get a lot of good information on how to keep their nutrition status up during their cancer treatments and as well communication, not just with family members but also with healthcare providers is so very important in the head and neck area because if you communicate with the family members and the healthcare providers, they’re really are some suggestions that can be made to help you through the treatment process. And again, there are portals available and that links to different support groups on to help patients with those communication aspects. Finally and probably most importantly, is the attitude and I personally have found in over 20 years of practice that patients who have a positive attitude really can get thru the treatment easier and can battle the cancer better. We have found that patients who have that positive attitude and that fighting attitude can have perhaps sometimes, better outcomes with their cancer. That’s also of one the three important aspects on

N: The attitude of the caregiver as well, is addressed within Your Cancer Game Plan campaign, correct?

S: Absolutely. The caregivers from the physicians to the nurses, to the dietitians, and everyone involved in the cancer patient’s care, that positive attitude has to go both ways. You’re absolutely right.

N: Where can our listeners go and learn more about Your Cancer Game Plan Awareness campaign?

S: Well, they can go right onto the website. The website is without any spaces, When you log on to this website, it really does outline the three important aspects that we’ve been discussing; the communication, the nutrition, and the positive attitude. There are suggestions such as recipes for nutrition, there are links to different other websites as well as support groups for the positive attitude and communication aspects so patient can log on and have access to all of this right on to

N: Well I thank you so much for talking with us today.

S: Well I thank you Mr. Howard for taking the time.

N: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard, in studio with Dr. Dhiren Shah, board certified radiation oncologist and we’ve been here talking about some of the unique challenges that patients suffering with head and neck cancers face. Transcripts and audio of this program are available at and also at You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, listen in and download at SoundCloud.

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