The International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies (IFHNOS) 5th Annual Conference was held in NYC earlier this week. Over 3,500 medical professionals in head and neck oncology representing 65 countries were in attendance. The conference celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Head and Neck services. The keynote speaker was Michael Douglas (15 min presentation on YouTube) who was treated at MSK by Dr. Jatin Shah, who has been Chief of the Head and Neck Service and leads the Head and Neck Disease Management Team for the last 22 years.
In 1998, 16 years ago, my father who is a cardiologist, called Dr. Shah at MSK for a second opinion about my treatment plan, given to me by a doctor just as wonderful as Dr. Shah. Dr. Shah was so generous with his time and expertise confirmed my treatment plan, providing us much comfort. I will never forget Dr. Shah and the small gift he gave.
Michael Douglas first presented with a soreness on his gum at the back of his mouth. He saw his GP, then an ENT, then a periodontist. He doesn’t blame the GP for not referring him to an oral surgeon. He doesn’t blame the ENT or the periodontist for not having a specific follow-up, like, “Come back in two weeks. If it doesn’t heal, we will biopsy.” In fact, it was Michael himself who said, something just isn’t right…..but by then, his cancer had progressed to stage IV, making it very easy for the next doctor to finally diagnosed him. Who is at fault for this late diagnosis? He says, the lack of the transfer of information, education, expertise from the top in the field. Interesting! Conferences like IFHNOS make that transfer happen. But, only to those that attend. Those that attend really care about early diagnosis and education. What about ALL those medical and dental professionals who choose their continuing education courses on cosmetics instead of what kills: Oral Cancer.
Michael ends his presentation by saying: “I’m living proof of the progress this organization is making.” It’s lucky for Michael that he lives near one of the best cancer institutions in the country with one of the lead head and Neck oncologists at the helm. MSK teaches many fellows from around the world and I’m sure it’s a competitive program to get accepted into. Are all those fellows then paying it forward and teaching their colleagues?