Best known for playing the fourth Ghostbuster, Winston Zeddemore in the 1984 movie classic, Ernie Hudson has survived cancer twice. Now the actor, 74, who’ll appear in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” in 2021, is raising awareness of three cancer-causing viruses through the Think About The Link initiative.
While hepatitis B and C account for the majority of liver cancer cases in the U.S., the human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to cervical cancer as well as several head-and-neck cancers. “Bringing awareness to the HPV vaccine and its ability to prevent at least six types of cancer is truly stopping cancer before it starts,” Hudson says.
Screening Caught Hudson’s Cancers Early
Treated for prostate cancer in 1998 and rectal cancer in 2011, Hudson came close to dying from complications after his 2011 surgery. “When I heard the word cancer it was one of the most devastating moments in my life. But we caught it early,” he told Fox59. “It’s good to listen to your body, but don’t let anything — even this pandemic — keep us from keeping our [screening] appointments and advocating for our own health.”
“As a dad, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my kids from cancer,” says Hudson, who has four grown sons. “Every parent needs to know there is an HPV vaccine that can protect your kids from cancer. Getting tested for cancer saved my life—getting your son or daughter vaccinated could save theirs.”
The Lastest HPV Vaccination Guidelines
Issued this month by the American Cancer Society (ACS), the new HPV vaccination guidelines recommend the vaccine for children ages 9-12. This is down from the previously recommended age-range of 11-12.
For those over 26, the new guidelines represent an even bigger change: The ACS does not recommend the vaccination after age 26 (despite the FDA’s June approval for Gardasil9 in preventing head and neck cancer in those up to age 45).
“We recommend strongly that children are vaccinated against HPV before they are sexually active,” says Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center.
Of this recent shift, Judith A. Smith, Associate Professor at UT Health McGovern Medical Center, who has focused extensively on the HPV vaccination’s durability of response, told SurvivorNet: “The current data does not support HPV vaccination against head and neck cancers in patients over 27 at this time.”
“The vast majority of humans in the U.S. will eventually get infected with human papillomavirus,” says Dr. Allen S. Ho is a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Because HPV is primarily transmitted during sexual contact, some parents object to the vaccine, suggesting that it will encourage sexual activity early on.
“There are no data to support that,” Dr. Jonathan Berek, Director of the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center told SurvivorNet. “Some people call it a ‘sex vaccine,’ but that’s not true. It’s an anti-cancer vaccine.”
Prostate Cancer Treatment
Hudson’s prostate cancer was detected six-months after a screening test came back normal — he followed up with another test that showed his PSA levels had risen, prompting him to seek treatment. He’d caught it early.
For early-stage prostate cancer, some doctors recommend active surveillance, a watch-and-wait approach for men who have a small number of cancer cells found in the biopsy, a low PSA, and low-grade cancer. Through active surveillance, doctors monitor whether the tumor is shrinking or growing.
Dr. James Brooks explains the benefits of active surveillance for low-risk prostate cancer.
Men who choose active surveillance avoid the potential side effects of treatment, including sexual and urinary problems. However, about 50% of men who opt for active surveillance will see changes within five years that require active treatment.
Some men opt to start active treatment immediately with either radiation or surgery. Experts stress that it’s up to the patient to express their concerns and fears with their doctor.
“I see patients who will say, ‘look, why would you radiate it when it’s still there? Let’s just cut the darn thing out!” says Dr. Stephen Freedland, Director of the Center for Integrated Research in Cancer and Lifestyle at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
The rate of prostate cancer in African-American men is 60 percent higher says Dr. Edwin Posadas, Medical Director of the Urologic Oncology Program at Cedars-Sinai.
“I see other patients that are like, ‘I’m terrified to have surgery.’ If they’re just against surgery, I go, great, let’s do radiation. I want to do the right thing for you that you’re comfortable with, because you’re the one that needs to live with the consequences,” says Dr. Freedland.”The risks of that choice, knowing the benefits, are probably similar.”
“Colon cancer, for a long time, was thought of as an elderly person’s disease,” “Today” host, Craig Melvin, whose brother survived the disease, tells SurvivorNet. Melvin points out an important statistic: the rate of colon cancer is declining in every age group except adults under age 50.
Today Show Host, Craig Melvin‘s brother is a colon cancer survivor, and was diagnosed at stage 4: “If you get screened, if you listen to your body, it’s the most treatable cancer.”
Risk factors include a family history of colon cancer, smoking, and obesity. “But if you get screened, if you listen to your body, it is also, arguably, the most treatable cancer as well,” Melvin adds.
You Shouldn’t Die of Embarrassment
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai, told SurvivorNet that the reasons people are still dying from a disease like colon cancer mostly involve people being unaware or too embarrassed to discuss symptoms that would warrant testing.
“I tell [my patients] that you shouldn’t die from fear, and you shouldn’t die from embarrassment — and that’s really the only two reasons that people are dying from this disease today,” Dr. Murrell said. “If you’re experiencing symptoms such as changes in bowel movements — you shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk to a doctor about it.”