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Who should get tested for oral, head and neck cancers?

March 21, 2012

SPRINGFIELD – Popular recording artist, actor and former member of the Monkees, Peter Tork, who is an oral cancer survivor, is urging Americans to get screened for cancer during the 15th annual Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week being held nationwide, April 22-28.


Baystate Medical Center is one of the many sites worldwide that will be offering free oral, head and neck cancer screenings during the special week. Free screenings will be held on, Wednesday, April 25, from 2-6 p.m. at the D’Amour Center for Cancer Care at 3350 Main St. in Springfield.


The event is sponsored by the Baystate Regional Cancer Program, Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeons of Western New England, Massachusetts Society of Otolaryngology, and the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance.


To register for an appointment, call Baystate Health Link at 413-794-2255 or outside the Springfield calling area at 800-377-4325.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 52,610 new cases of head and neck cancers will be diagnosed in 2012 with an estimated 11,500 of those cases resulting in death.


More than 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with cancers of the head and neck every year in the United States, and just because they may not be able to feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Many Americans do not recognize the symptoms of these life-threatening diseases – including cancers of the oral cavity, larynx and pharynx – and by the time they are diagnosed, it’s too late.


However, there are a few visible signs associated with these cancers that require immediate attention, including:

  • A sore in your mouth that doesn't heal or that increases in size
  • Persistent pain in your mouth
  • Lumps or white or red patches inside your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing or moving your tongue
  • Soreness in your throat or feeling that something is caught in your throat
  • Changes in your voice
  • A lump in your neck.


Tork was diagnosed in March 2009 with adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), a relatively rare cancer that typically occurs in the salivary glands, on the lower part of his tongue. Following surgery to remove the tumor and courses of radiation, he was declared free of any detectable cancer.


”I am grateful to say my cancer was detected early enough for me to

undergo successful surgery and follow-up treatment,” said Tork. “I encourage everyone to get screened for oral, head and neck cancers by taking advantage of the free screenings offered during Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week. Get screened and increase your chances for living a full and healthy life.”


Fortunately, for Tork and others, with early detection the disease is preventable and treatable.


“As physicians, we need to educate the public about head and neck cancer and encourage them to get regular checkups and to eliminate high-risk habits like smoking,” said Dr. Barry Jacobs of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeons of Western New England.

Tobacco, including dip and chewing tobacco, and alcohol use are the most significant risk factors for head and neck cancers. “Eighty-five percent of these cancers

are linked to tobacco use,” said Jacobs. “People who use both tobacco and alcohol have a 15-times greater risk for developing these cancers than people who use either one or the other.”

“Head and neck cancers are curable malignancies, but the degree to which a patient can be cured is dependent upon detecting these cancers in their earliest stages,” added

Dr. Wilson Mertens, medical director, Baystate Regional Cancer Program. 


“Screenings available at our D’Amour Center for Cancer Care may help detect cancer at its most curable stage, when patients will require the least medical intervention,” he added.


Who should get tested?


Every adult. Tobacco and alcohol users traditionally have been considered the populations at greatest risk for these cancers. However, oral cancer cases are on the rise in younger adults who do not smoke, and recent research indicates this development is due partly to the increase of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a cancer-causing infection that can be transmitted by oral sex. HPV-related oral cancers are more difficult to detect because these cancers usually occur on the back of the tongue or on the tonsils, providing even more reason to get screened regularly.


For more information on the Baystate Regional Cancer Program, or for a referral to an oncologist, call the Baystate Regional Cancer Program at 413-794-BRCP.


Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeons of Western New England, with offices in Springfield, Northampton and Ware, is the region’s largest group of board certified specialists in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. Specialists provide state of the art care in the management of oral, head and neck tumors, surgical management of thyroid and parathyroid disorders, snoring and sleep disorders, as well as hearing and balance disorders in adults and children. For more information, call 413-732-7426 for all locations.