December 17, 2014 3:16 pm

‘Manuary’ targets head and neck cancer

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Watch above: Started in 2011, Manuary sees men growing a beard during January to raise head and neck cancer awareness.

SASKATOON – Manuary is coming to Saskatoon. What is Manuary? It’s a campaign to raise awareness – and research funding – for head and neck cancer.

Head and neck cancers are growing in frequency, in part due to higher infection rates of human papilloma virus, or HPV.

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“It’s on the rise worldwide,” said Dr. Rick Jaggi, who is spearheading the campaign in Saskatoon. “With the rise of the HPV era, it’s just expotentially increasing again,” he told Global News.

Men are four times more likely to be infected, but infection rates among women are growing as well. It’s the sixth most common type of cancer in North America.

Colleen Tkachuk knows that too well. About ten years ago, she was diagnosed with pre-cancerous lesions on her tongue. They were removed, came back and were removed again.

Then this past August it happened again. Tkachuk says she was lucky, because she got a diagnosis within days. Even so, it’s been very difficult.

“I lost one third of my tongue as well as a portion of the floor of my mouth,” she said. “I am learning to speak again.”

Dr. Jaggi, who is a head and neck surgeon, says early detection is crucial.

“Head and neck cancer in an early stage is very treatable … if caught as a stage one, it has 90 – 95 per cent survival,” he said. “But at stage four, there is less than a 30 per cent survival rate.”

“Mine was caught early and I only lost this amount,” said Tkachuk. “I know others who have lost two thirds of their tongue, more of their tongue, their lymph nodes – how would you feel if you woke up from surgery and couldn’t eat, or speak or breathe … that’s what I deal with daily, fearing that it’s going to come back.”

The Manuary campaign will see hospital staff and members of the community growing beards for the month of January. The group in Saskatoon is hoping to raise $25,000  to support local head and neck cancer research – and to raise awareness of a condition that too often is not diagnosed until the advanced stages, when survival chances are lower, and treatment is much more difficult.

People can sign up individually or as a team, at the manuary website. Women can pledge as well, or get “bearded” on the website.

The group plans an official “Shave Off” on Jan. 3 to launch the campaign. Manuary began in London, Ont. in 2011, and has since spread to a number of cities across the country.

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