Raising awareness of oral cancer

Apr 7, 2014

Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s battle with oral cancer is putting a spotlight on the deadly disease.  On the same day the former Buffalo Bill star quarterback was to begin chemotherapy and radition treatments in New York City, WBFO News reports on oral, head and neck cancer awareness month, and how one local woman is spreading the word about the importance of being screened.

Jennifer Trost of Lancaster was diagnosed with oral cancer back in February, similar to the cancer that Kelly was diagnosed with over a year ago.

“I noticed when I was brushing it just looked like a traditional canker sore, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that I haven’t ever seen. But then I thought, well I’ve never really had a canker sore. With oral cancer, if anything in your mouth lasts over two weeks, you should go see a doctor and have it checked,” said Trost.

April is oral, head and neck cancer awareness month.
Credit roswellpark.org

Trost says she wants the community to learn from the battle she and Kelly are going through.

“They removed part of the left side of my tongue and they removed a bunch of lymph nodes in my neck and biopsied them. Being a hygienist, I kind of knew when something wasn’t right, and that’s why I didn’t let it go. I caught mine early enough. It may not seem early enough, but it was early enough where it was stage two because of the size, it was all superficial that they were able to remove everything,” said Trost.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute Radiation Oncologist Dr. Anurag Singh says heavy drinkers, smokers, chewing tobacco users, and people diagnosed with the Human Papilloma Virus, also known as HPV, are in the highest risk pool for oral, head and neck cancers. He says it’s important for people with risk factors to get screened.

Jennifer Trost of Lancaster.
Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News

“The smaller the tumor, the easier it is to treat, the less loss of function will occur. With oral cancers in particular, a very small one can just be removed before it becomes a full blown cancer,” said Singh.

Jennifer Trost wasn’t a common oral cancer patient, because she wasn’t part of the group with greater risk factors. Singh says oral, head, and neck diseases can also occur based on genetics.

“If you have a sore that won’t heal, if you have bleeding, if there’s mucus that’s coming up with blood, if you have altered taste sensation. These are all things that should be evaluated and looked at,” said Singh.

Dentist with Gentle Dentistry of Lancaster, Dr. Lawrence Bartos says people can prevent oral cancers by reducing sun exposure, as well as alcohol and tobacco use. He says regular trips to the dentist are the best defense against the disease.

“It’s really about having professionals look and evaluate to make sure that there isn’t something that should be dealt with. The biggest thing that people need to know about oral cancer is that because of the fact that there are so many people out there that avoid going to the dentist, the survival rate really hasn’t increased, unlike some of the other cancers we hear about on a consistent basis,” said Bartos.

But, Singh says head and neck cancers are treatable. He says success rates depend on various factors such as where the tumor is located in the body and its size.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute Radiation Oncologist Dr. Anurag Singh.
Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO News

“We’ve had good success using a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in some order to cure, sometimes even large tumors. Patients have done remarkably well, much more so than they would have, had they had a similar size tumor with a similar invasion in another area of the body,” said Singh.

As for Jim Kelly, his cancer has returned and his fight has become more difficult as there are various microscopic tumors along his infraorbital nerve, dangerously close to the carotid artery in his head. Kelly is preparing to receive treatment in New York City this week. As for Jennifer Trost she is currently without disease, but has a long journey ahead with many follow-up visits to come. She says she’s making the best of it by focusing on the positives in life, her two sons and husband.

Dr. Bartos says if there’s anything the community can take away from stories like Kelly’s, it’s that spreading awareness can help prevent oral, head, and neck cancers from occurring in the first place.