April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and dentistrytoday.com will be celebrating the event with blogs, news stories, and other features all spotlighting the disease. #OralCancerAwareness
My sister’s text message took me quite by surprise. It shouldn’t have, I suppose. As a lifetime 2-pack-a-day smoker and abuser of alcohol, her lifestyle clearly made her a candidate. Still, receiving her text that she’d been diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma of the uvula and soft palate was unexpected.
The good news is that my sister’s physician assistant picked it up at an early stage during her routine physical with a simple tongue blade exam. Wow!
A biopsy performed by an ear, nose, and throat specialist confirmed the suspicion, and my sister was referred to an oncologist for care. Further diagnostics confirmed that the lesion was in situ and that chemotherapy would be unnecessary.
Even so, the treatment still took a toll on my sister. Forty-four rounds of radiation during a 6-week period destroyed the cancer, but left her mouth and oropharynx raw and inflamed and made swallowing difficult. Eating became a task, and her weight fell to less than 100 pounds.
Through it all, she kept her spirits high and was supported by friends and family. Such strong support played a key role in helping her through the experience.
Although it is never pleasant to suggest to a patient that we’d like to re-examine a suspicious area in a week to 10 days, it is our professional responsibility to do so. The oral cancer examination is obviously a critical component of every preventive care appointment, and it is easily accomplished with the benefit of loupes and good operatory lighting.
I’m very grateful that my sister will be all right and for everyone who aided her during this very challenging time. I’m especially thankful for the physician assistant who first suspected pathology. And imagine, the assistant did that with a simple tongue blade exam. Just say “aaah!”