Is it a pimple…or is it cancer?
I walked in the office on Monday morning. I took a quick glance at the schedule and I smiled because one of my very dear patients was on the schedule, Mr. Sully. He recently retired and he was excited to do all the things he had no time for as an employee of Boeing. When I walked in to greet him, I froze. Half of his right face was swollen and paralyzed and his eye was watering. A big, white bandage was attached right behind the ear, wrapping forward to the side of his jaw.
“You wouldn’t believe it! I had a pimple behind the ear, which just wouldn’t heal. I kept draining it, but finally, I decided to go to the doctor to cut it off. He thought it was nothing too, but he had it biopsied anyway. It turned out that little pimple was cancer!” said Mr Sully. It was squamous cell carcinoma, one of the more invasive forms of cancer.
When the surgeon went in to remove it, he realized it was much deeper and it surrounded the parotid gland, a gland located in the cheek, which produces saliva. This gland was also removed and a skin graft from his chest had to be placed to cover the area.
Head and neck cancer is best treated when diagnosed early. The problem is, many of us, like Mr Scully, look at a small pimple and don’t think anything of it. Tobacco and alcohol use are the most important risk factors for most head and neck cancers. Additionally, infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) of the mouth causes more than half of all cases of oral cancers. We can test for this HPV infection with a simple swish. Visit www.oralDNA.com for more information.
Chew on this: Do a cancer self-assessment check once a week. Examine your face and neck, including behind the ear and note any raised bumps or pores that look enlarged. If you notice any new and growing “pores” or pimples, visit your dermatologist or ENT specialist. Dentists are also trained to do head and neck exams and then refer you out if something looks suspicious.