Oral Cancer: It’s a Family Affair

Wayne Kerr, DDS


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!”

Dr. Kerr earned a Mastership in the AGD, which honored him in 2011 with its presentation of the Life Long Learning and Service Recognition Award. He holds Fellowships in both the American and International Colleges of Dentistry and the Pierre Fauchard Academy. He is a member of the Hinman Dental Society and an Honored Fellow of the Georgia Dental Association, and he has been recognized by state and local organizations as Dentist of the Year, Small Business Person of the Year, and Citizen and Professional of the Year. He has been a Field Evaluator for the CR Foundation since 1992. Dr. Kerr established a clinic for free dental and medical care in 1994, and he continues to lecture to senior dental hygiene students in preparation for their national board exam. He can be reached at wayne@kerrspeak.com and at kerrspeak.com.  

Related Articles

It Only Takes a Moment to Detect Oral Cancer

When an Oral Cancer Diagnosis Hits Home

Awareness Is the Key to Fighting Oral Cancer