Ten minutes could save a life

Published 11:20 am Saturday, April 3, 2010

Just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Ask the more than 35,000 Americans who were diagnosed with cancers of the head and neck last year. Unfortunately, many Americans do not recognize the symptoms of these life-threatening diseases, which include cancers of the oral cavity, larynx and pharynx, and by the time they are diagnosed, for some, it is too late.

In 2008, approximately 7,550 Americans died from oral, head and neck cancer. However, there is good news. If diagnosed very early, oral head and neck cancers can be more easily treated without significant complications, and the chances of survival greatly increase.

Who should get tested? Every adult. Tobacco and alcohol users traditionally have been considered the people at greatest risk for these cancers. However, oropharyngeal cancer is on the rise in young adults who do not smoke. Researchers have attributed this development partly to the increase of the cancer-causing human papillomavirus, or HPV, infection, which can be transmitted by oral sex. Oropharyngeal cancers associated with HPV are more difficult to detect because these cancers usually occur on the back of the tongue or on the tonsils, providing all the more reason to get screened regularly.

What are the potential warning signs of oral cancers? The signs and symptoms or oral cancer often go unnoticed. However, there are a few visible signs associated with these cancers that require immediate attention, including:

■ Red or white patches in the mouth that last for more than two weeks

■ Change in voice or hoarseness that lasts more than two weeks

■ Sore throat that does not subside

■ Pain or swelling in the mouth or neck that does not subside.

■ Lump in the neck

■ Ear pain

■ Difficulty speaking or swallowing

■ Difficulty breathing

Where and when can I get screened locally? Coastal Plain ENT, located on the campus of Southampton Memorial Hospital, will offer free screenings for oral cancer in observance of the 12th annual Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week on Tuesday, April 13.

Each screening is painless and takes only about 10 minutes. If you’re out of town, free screenings will be offered at over 150 participating institutions nationwide. Visit www.OHANCAW.com for a list of those participating sites and for more information. OHANCAW is sponsored nationally by the head and Neck Cancer Alliance, formerly the Yul Brynner head and Neck Cancer Foundation.

If you have any of the above warning signs, do not wait for the free screening and seek medical attention immediately.

Why should you get screened? If the above wasn’t enough encouragement, get screened because it’s quick, painless, and free and it’s right around the corner. Given the current state of the economy and rising health care costs, take advantage of the opportunity to benefit from this preventive health measure at no charge by taking 10 minutes to do something that could save your life.

Please contact us at Coastal Plain ENT 562-6673 for further details.