Posted: May 5, 2024

Doctors have known for a long time that anyone cured of cancer is at higher risk of a second cancer than the general population.  There are few large studies that have looked at this.  Now comes a review from The Lancet Oncology, the premier British cancer journal, looking at this issue.  The article, from Denmark, looks at the Danish cancer registry to see what happened to all of their citizens diagnosed with cancer.  Almost half a million Danes were tracked, with the sexes equally represented.  What they found was that people who got certain cancers were much more likely to get a second one.  In particular, people with previous head and neck cancer — larynx, pharynx and oral cavity (mouth) were the most likely, with a cumulative incidence of a shocking 20% incidence of second cancer at 15 years. The most common second cancer was lung cancer.  with a second head and neck cancer second most common.  This makes sense since most of these people smoked, and lung cancer is an order of magnitude more common than head and neck.  There was no way for the authors to tease out what happened to those people who stopped smoking after their first cancer versus those who continued to smoke.  Common diseases still occurred commonly, so breast, colon and prostate cancer also occurred with great frequency.  If you wish a copy of the full article, Dr. Stark can email it to you.  Just fill out the form to the right of this page.

So what is the take-home message?  People who have had cancer should be screened arguably more carefully than the general public for the development of cancer.  In the United States there is only pretty good compliance for most cancer screenings, and few primary care physicians perform a thorough head and neck exam on their patients at their annual physical, if they even have one.  If you or a loved one has had cancer, Dr. Stark hopes that this post will galvanize you into taking your care into your own hands if your doctors aren’t already doing it!