My Journey with Oral Cancer and Important Information
My story: In late January 2014, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with tongue cancer - Squamous Cell Carcinoma - which is an aggressive cancer that can spread easily and quickly to other organs in the body. Early detection is essential. My dentist was alert to a chronic tongue biting issue that I had and when the lesion changed, he sent me immediately to an ENT (the very next day) who immediately took a biopsy. We are fortunate to live so close to Penn State Hershey Medical Center that has a premier head and neck cancer clinic.
On March 18th, I had 30% of the left side of my tongue, my left submandibular gland, and 19 lymph nodes removed. And, this was EARLY STAGE 2 !! We basically get one shot at getting this cancer out. Any recurrence, which is about 48% if not caught in early stages, often results in death within five years. I was fortunate; my surgeons (yes, plural) successfully removed all of it and I do not need chemo or radiation at this point. My surgeon has declared me cancer-free after my six month PET scan in September, 2014. I will need follow-up testing for at least five years and diligence because of having had this cancer.
I do not smoke or drink – these two activities compromise 80% of oral cancer risk. I have been asked this many times so I thought I would mention that here. Like many of you, I had no idea I could get this unless I smoked! Now that you know about it, heed my caution, you can. I also do not have HPV virus, which contributes to another 15% of these cancers. This HPV risk group is growing rapidly in the 16-30 year-old age group. It is a crisis that needs education, awareness and early detection to reduce the disfigurement, speech and eating difficulties, and deaths caused by this disease. My apparent risk factor was that I chronically bit my tongue.
Your dentist should be doing regular screening for oral cancer. You should be having dental exams twice a year, regardless of your age. Ask him/her if they are doing the oral cancer screening at every visit. If not, ask why not - then change dentists! Also, check your own mouth and neck for lumps, bumps, redness, white areas or recurrent mouth ulcers. Get any of these checked by a dentist or an ENT as soon as possible. If it does not 'feel' right to you, it probably isn't. Don't take a chance.
From The Oral Cancer Foundation website, http://www.oralcancerfoundation.org/facts, some sobering facts:
“Historically the death rate associated with this cancer is particularly high not because it is hard to discover or diagnose, but due to the cancer being routinely discovered late in its development. Close to 43,250 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. It will cause over 8,000 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day. Of those 43,250 newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years. (Approximately 57%) This is a number which has not significantly improved in decades. The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers which we hear about routinely such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, and endocrine system cancers such as thyroid, or skin cancer (malignant melanoma). If you expand the definition of oral cancers to include cancer of the larynx, for which the risk factors are the same, the numbers of diagnosed cases grow to approximately 54,000 individuals, and 13,500 deaths per year in the U.S. alone. Worldwide the problem is much greater, with over 640,000 new cases being found each year.”
Please take care of yourselves. This is occurring far too frequently. Doing oral self-exams and getting screening for this cancer can literally save your life! We need to get the word out - early detection reduces chance of disfigurement, speech and eating difficulties, and death. Namaste
Physical Location: 259 N. 6th Street, Suite 2, Columbia, PA
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