Whenever a celebrity reveals an oral cancer diagnosis, media attention naturally focuses more on the condition. Such was the case earlier this spring when Jim Kelly, the Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills quarterback, underwent a 12-hour procedure to remove oral cancer and reconstruct his upper jaw. He was initially diagnosed in 2013 and underwent additional surgeries in 2014. Other celebrities who have been victims of oropharyngeal cancer include Green Day guitarist Jason White and Actor Michael Douglas.

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Jim Kelly, the Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills quarterback, is just one of the celebrities whose oral cancer diagnosis has focused attention on the disease. Ocoee Oral Surgery, oral & maxillofacial surgeons in Cleveland TN, stress the importance of regular dental visits and screening for early detection of the disease.

Education About Oropharyngeal Cancer

Ocoee Oral Surgery, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons in Cleveland TN, encourage patients to be aware of possible cancer risks associated with heavy use of alcohol and tobacco. Oral cancers also root from being infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV).

The American Cancer Society estimates about 51,540 people in the US will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer, and an estimated 10,030 people will die of these cancers.

Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers occur most often in the tongue, tonsils and oropharynx, the gums, floor of the mouth, or other parts of the mouth.

Oral Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the possible signs of oropharyngeal cancer are difficulty swallowing, unexplained rapid weight loss, ear pain, a lump in the back of the throat or mouth, a lump in the neck, a dull pain behind the sternum, or a persistent cough.

Oral cancer is diagnosed by examining the throat to look at the throat and feel the neck for masses. If abnormal tissue is found, a piece of tissue is obtained in a procedure called a biopsy and checked for cancer cells. On a previous blog, we pointed out 5 Ways to Self-Examine for Oral Cancer.

After successfully undergoing oral surgery for removal of oropharyngeal cancers, it is important to eliminate risk factors like smoking and drinking, which increase the risk for second cancers, or recurrent cancer.

Jim Kelly had been declared cancer-free in 2016, which demonstrates the need to remain vigilant. According to the American Cancer Society, “some who are cured of oral or oropharyngeal cancer will develop another cancer later in the lung, mouth, throat, or other nearby areas. For this reason, people with oral and oropharyngeal cancer will need to have follow-up exams for the rest of their lives.”

Importance of Regular Dental Check-Ups

The Cancer Society states that “regular dental check-ups that include an exam of the entire mouth are important in finding oral and oropharyngeal cancers (and pre-cancers) early… Some dentists and doctors recommend that you look at your mouth in a mirror every month to check for any changes, like white patches, sores, or lumps. This is very important if you use or have used tobacco, and/or if you routinely drink alcohol, as these put you at much higher risk for these cancers.”

In Kelly’s case, the surgery involved a technique called microvascular reconstruction, taking part of his fibula and blood vessels from his leg to rebuild his upper jaw, including filling a gap left by a previous surgery. The fibula chosen was from a non-weight-bearing bone, meaning Kelly’s leg should function normally. He told The Buffalo News that he sought surgery to relieve what had become severe pain in his jaw, and the findings of the biopsy resulted in a more extensive reconstructive procedure.

Our wish as Cleveland Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons is for patients to give attention to their overall oral health, self-exam in the mirror monthly and stick to a schedule of regular dental check-ups.

This website is designed for general patient educational and information purposes only and does not render medical advice or professional services, unless we otherwise indicate. The information provided through this website should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. It is not a substitute for professional health care and is designed to support – not replace – the relationship you have with your health care provider. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency medical services immediately.

Photo Copyright:U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Keyonna Fennell

Written by Steven Stiefel