Oral cancers can be deadly, but symptoms are easy to miss. Here’s what to look for
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Shelby Watkins and Joanne Ebesu are talking about how they survived oral cancer in the hopes that it’ll save lives.
Both say not enough is known about the deadly disease and the symptoms can be easy to miss.
“I was 17, when I first had a bump on my tongue. It worsened and led to excruciating earaches,” Watkins said. “When I was 19, I did another biopsy and my doctor diagnosed me with stage three oral cancer. They removed about half of my tongue, rebuilt it and removed all the lymph nodes on the right side of my neck.”
Ebesu sensed something was wrong when she noticed a tiny bump under her tongue.
“I thought I had a cold sore but it didn’t go away,” said Ebesu. “They ended up removing about a third of my tongue and reconstructed it with muscle from my arm.”
Doctors say more younger people are being diagnosed. They don’t know why.
“The survival rate is quite low. It’s only about 50% and that’s because a lot of people like me, we are not sure what it is and everybody thinks, oh, that can’t be cancer,” said Ebesu.
“Oral cancer, you can have it in the back of your throat, down your neck, you know, it’s a head and neck type of cancer,” said Watkins.
- See a doctor if you experience these symptoms:
- A bump or sore in your mouth that hasn’t healed in two weeks.
- Difficulty swallowing
- Numbness in your mouth or face
- Constant earaches
Those who smoke, chew tobacco or beetle nut, drink alcohol or are infected with human papilloma virus or HPV are more at risk.
“Like with any cancer, the sooner you get diagnosed, the better your chances of treatment for survival,” said Ebesu.
There will be free screenings at the fourth annual Oral Cancer Foundation walk on Sept. 23 from 7:30 am to 1 p.m. at the UH Cancer Center.
Go to OralCancerFoundation.org to sign up.
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