Smoke-filled rooms could be at fault

Non-smoking MK Elon may have gotten cancer from second-hand smoke.

Benny Elon 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Benny Elon 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Since tobacco causes more than 95 percent of all laryngeal cancer, MK Benny Elon, the non-smoking National Union faction chairman, may have gotten his from smoke-filled rooms in the yeshivot, party meetings and Knesset where he has spent much of his time over the years. This explanation was suggested on Tuesday by Prof. Rafi Feinmesser, head of the otolaryngology (ear-nose-and-throat) department at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva, where the 51-year-old MK underwent surgery to remove a tumor last week. He has started six weeks of daily radiotherapy treatments at Hadassah University Medical Center, Ein Kerem after having the malignant tumor on his voice-box removed. Feinmesser told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that Elon had a "90 percent chance of a cure" because the tumor was caught at a relatively early stage and had not spread. "We do not know for certain the reason for each case, but it may be that passive smoking - exposure to other people's smoke - is the cause of his laryngeal cancer. Passive smoking has been proven to be an important factor in this type of tumor in non-smokers." Elon was a yeshiva educator for many years, and since he started a political career, he has been exposed to many smoke-filled rooms. He eats in the general Knesset cafeteria where there has been a lot of exposure to smoke for many years; it has not disappeared completely even after the law barred smoking in eating places (except for completely enclosed, ventilated areas). The law is not widely enforced. Feinmesser demanded Tuesday that smoking laws be strictly enforced. Tobacco has long been implicated as an important agent in the development of squamous cell carcinoma, the most common form of laryngeal cancer. Carcinoma of the vocal cords is rare in nonsmokers, although it is sometimes diagnosed in nonsmokers who have chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease, in which stomach acids are involuntarily regurgitated into the esophagus (food tube) and the throat. Abuse of the voice - by too much talking and shouting from the throat rather than from the abdomen - causes swelling and even bleeding of the vocal folds, but overuse of the vocal cords does not result in cancer, according to Feinmesser. This benign swelling is quite common among teachers and others who use their voices constantly and powerfully, including members of parliament (the word comes from the French word parler, "to speak").