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When the word cancer is mentioned in our house, Anthony, my 16-year-old, usually has this question — Why can’t they just find a cure for cancer?
Since I am not the authority on this subject, I will leave this question unanswered in this column. Perhaps Dr. Bennett or Dr. Gandhi can answer this for Anthony more adequately than I.
I am sure by now you know this column is going to be about oral cancer. I have had three very recent encounters with oral cancer in my office. I am going to mention a bit on each of them; however, I really want you to think about whether you have been screened for oral cancer anytime recently.
If you have — great! If you haven’t, consider doing it soon. If you have a question in your mind about something in your mouth, go and get it looked at sooner rather than later.
+ The first story was of a man in his 70s. On routine evaluation at his hygiene appointment, my hygienist found something that just didn’t look right. She asked me to take a look at it, and I was immediately concerned.
It was a swelling on the side of the tongue, an area that happens to be a well-known location for oral cancer. I referred him to the oral surgeon, who took a look at it and recommended follow up in a week. During that time, it had disappeared.
The plan is to monitor the area for future signs of cancer. Although this was a legitimate scare, it had a happy ending. However, the patient will continue to be monitored at each visit.
+ The next finding was on the lower lip of a man in his 50s. He reported biting the area a few months ago. The area swelled and never went away. In fact, he reported playing with the nodule regularly. There was no pain involved, and it stayed about the same size over the months.
My initial thought was that it was a swelling of one of the salivary glands in the lip or a fibrous formation as a result of the initial bite. Nevertheless, I sent him for a biopsy, since it is not normal anatomy. Thankfully, he went.
After it was removed and biopsied, it came back as a premalignant growth that had a 10 percent chance of turning malignant. I honestly would have never guessed this.
This patient is so thankful for me suggesting a biopsy. As I usually say to patients — it is better to find out what it is for peace of mind.
+ The last situation involves a man in his 70s who has gone to the dentist for years on a regular basis. He happens to not be a patient of mine, but the uncle of my office manager.
At his last hygiene appointment, the hygienist noticed something unusual in his throat. He, of course, went for a biopsy. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a cancer. My hat comes off to all the hygienists out there who routinely screen for oral cancer. You, too, Tricia and Rita, my hygienists.
Since this story involves my office manager, Lisa, she has asked that I allow her to write the next column so she can express her feelings. Next week’s column should be from her.
To recap, pay attention to your instincts if you have an area of concern to you. Have it looked at. Be sure you are being screened for oral cancer at all of your hygiene appointments.
Please know that your hygienist may be looking and not mentioning it to you. For your peace of mind, ask if he or she have screened you for oral cancer. If a biopsy has been suggested, please follow through. Wouldn’t you rather get the good news than let time pass and get some bad news?
I hope this column will spark at least one of you to follow through on something that has been on your mind.
By the way, this is not limited to oral cancer. If there is a growth anywhere on your body, get it looked at soon!
Dr. Frank Vascimini is a dentist practicing in Homosassa. Send your questions to 4805 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, FL 34446 or email them to him at info@MasterpieceDentalStudio.com.