Doctors say that treatment for throat cancer, such as the tumor that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has developed, have improved greatly in recent years.
Dimon revealed Tuesday that he has throat cancer, but noted that the cancer was caught early and that his prognosis is "excellent."
"Following thorough tests that included a CAT scan, PET scan and a biopsy, the cancer is confined to the original site and the adjacent lymph nodes on the right side of my neck," Dimon wrote in a letter to colleagues and shareholders. "Importantly, there is no evidence of cancer elsewhere in my body."
Dimon, 58, plans to limit his travel while he undergoes eight weeks of treatment, including radiation and chemotherapy, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
"I feel very good now and will let all of you know if my health situation changes," Dimon wrote.
Cancer can develop in different areas of the throat. Dimon did not say which kind of throat cancer he has developed.
A general term like "throat cancer" could refer to cancer anywhere from the base of the tongue down to the larynx, or voice box, says Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. Lichtenfeld has no personal knowledge of Dimon's case.
About 12,630 Americans will be diagnosed this year with cancer of the larynx, and 3,610 will die from it, according to the cancer society. These cancers are often related to smoking.
But oropharyngeal cancer starts in the oropharynx, the part of the throat just behind the mouth. About 37,000 Americans will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer this year and an estimated 7,300 will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.
In the past, most throat cancers were caused by smoking or heavy alcohol use, Lichtenfeld says. But a growing number of throat cancers today are caused by HPV, or human papillomavirus, the same family of viruses that causes cervical cancer.
Most men with throat cancers are in their 50s and 60s, Lichtenfeld says.
Throat cancers are treated the same way, regardless of the cause. But Lichtenfeld notes that HPV-related throat cancers tend to be more curable, for reasons doctors don't yet understand.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines against HPV for both young women and young men, as a way to reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Although the vaccines haven't been tested against oral or throat cancers, many experts hope that vaccinating young people today will reduce their future risk of these tumors.
Unlike cervical cancer – which can be caught early in precancerous stages through screening tests – there is no way to screen for oral or throat cancers.
Treatments for throat cancer have improved greatly in the past 10 to 15 years, and doctors and nurses today are much better at managing side effects. Still, Lichtenfeld says it's important to seek treatment at a cancer center experienced in treating throat cancer. Radiation can cause a dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and other painful symptoms. But a good palliative care team — which focuses on alleviating the symptoms of serious diseases — can help patients feel better and recover faster, he says.
In all of these ways, Lichtenfeld says, "Memorial Sloan-Kettering is at the top of the list."