Oral and Throat Cancer Stories (Oral Cancer Awareness Month)

A story reposted from http://behealthy.baystatebanner.com, February 3, 2011 – Vol. 5 • No. 4


Image of Willa Goins with daughter

Willia Goins, right, shown with her daughter, Tracy, says that with the help of a prosthesis, she is able to speak after the removal of her larynx due to cancer. (Daryl Goins photo)

“Willia Goins, 70, now speaks in a whisper.

She had her larynx, or voice box, removed about 14 years ago, and the whisper is as loud as it gets. Goins might speak quietly, but her message comes through loud and clear. “I always had problems with my throat,” she explained. “Even when I was young.”

Back then she said she paid no attention to the intermittent pain she had when swallowing and attributed it to the cold weather or perhaps a cold. But as she grew older, the pain continued and got worse with time.

Goins finally gave in and visited a doctor. “Something is terribly wrong,” she told her physician. She underwent weeks of testing until the diagnosis was confirmed. “It [cancer] was in my throat,” she said.

The doctors warned her that it was possible that her larynx might have to be removed if her throat cancer was extensive. When her initial treatment of chemotherapy failed to solve the problem, she welcomed the surgery.

She was 56 at the time. “Maybe I’ve talked enough,” she said.

Treatment for oral cancer varies by its location and extent, according to Dr. Scharukh Jalisi, the director of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery and Skull Base Surgery at Boston Medical Center, and may include surgery, radiation and in some cases, chemotherapy. A diverse team of professionals is involved, including oncologists (cancer specialists), dentists, reconstructive surgeons and speech therapists. The team is extensive because of the potential losses suffered from oral cancer. The disease can compromise the ability to speak, swallow and eat, and result in irreversible damage to the area impacted.

A funny thing happened after Goins’ surgery. She was not able to speak, but that didn’t stop her from communicating. Her daughter walked into her hospital room with a chalk board.

“From day one I was ‘talking,’ ” she said. “After that I carried a notebook with me.” It was a year before Goins could talk again with the assistance of a prosthesis and speech therapy.

Her surgery was followed by radiation. She has had no treatment since then — and that was 14 years ago.

In hindsight Goins realizes that her smoking probably played a role in her disease. She’s cured of that habit. “You don’t want to pick up a cigarette after you’ve had a throat operation,” she explained.

Kenneth Tucker still marvels at the fact that he had oral cancer though he says he never smoked. His age of 46 at the time of diagnosis made his situation even more unusual, since the median age at diagnosis of oral cancer is 62.

Image of Kenneth Tucker handling heavy machinery at work.

Tucker, who is now 49, remembers the story well. “I started having pain and bleeding in my right cheek when I chewed and brushed my teeth,” he said. He noticed a red spot on the inside of his right cheek, but chalked it up to a sore of some kind.

When his home remedies of salt water and peroxide provided no cure, he knew he had a problem. The pain intensified.

Tucker admitted that he had never heard of oral or head and neck cancer. He said that cancer was the farthest thing from his mind.

Fortunately, he had a dental appointment the following month and credits the dental hygienist for her keen observation — and luck. The hygienist’s mother had cancer of the mouth, and the red spot looked suspiciously familiar.

Her suspicions were correct. The dentist took a look and didn’t like what he saw. An oral surgeon biopsied the sore. A week later a diagnosis of cancer was confirmed.

In October 2006 Tucker underwent surgery to have the cancer removed. “We thought everything was all right,” he said. But a few months later the pain — and the cancer — recurred in the same spot, but now involved the lymph nodes.

He underwent another surgery to remove the tumor and lymph nodes followed by seven weeks of radiation.

That was almost four years ago and Tucker has had a clean bill of health since then. Checkups have been good. He had a couple of scares when white spots appeared in his mouth, but a fungus was to blame. Red and white spots in the mouth can be signs of oral cancer.

Tucker’s day-to-day life has changed. The radiation impaired his salivary glands, resulting in dry mouth. “Every 30 minutes I have to drink water,” Tucker explained. He also uses dental trays filled with fluoride gel 10 minutes each day to decrease the risk of dental decay. Saliva prevents the buildup of bacteria in the mouth that can lead to caries. Every morning he bites into a tool that he says allows him to release his jaws.

“Jaws stiffen from radiation,” he explained.

When he could finally return to work Tucker knew he was on his way. He’s become a preacher of sorts at work. When he sees young men who dip, or use smokeless tobacco, he has a few choice words.

“You take a look at me,” he warns. “You don’t want to go through what I went through.”

Posted in Cancer, Head and Neck, Oral-Systemic | Leave a comment

Oral Cancer Screening: “All You Have to do is Open Your Mouth”

“All you have to do is open your mouth.”
— The Head and Neck Cancer Alliance


Did you know that we systematically screen all of our patients for oral, head, and neck cancer when you come in for an appointment?

Did you also know that we also have easy-to-use kits in our office that test for Oral HPV (the Human Papilloma Virus), the leading cause of oral cancer, and the test can also can pinpoint other bacteria strains in your saliva, which gives us a wonderfully individualized profile of your mouth’s health?!



The oral cancer examination is painless and quick … and life-saving. When cancers of the head and neck are found early, the cure rate is high. Semi-Annual screenings by your dentist, whether or not that is us, should be a part of your regular dental hygiene checkups.

Posted in Cancer, Dental Hygiene Tools, Head and Neck, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rescue Breathing for Laryngectomees and Neck Breathers

Knowing how to do CPR and rescue breathing are very important general life skills that if you don’t have, you should learn how to properly do them as soon as possible. (A friend once said that if a person loves their friends and family, they should learn CPR and rescue breathing, no ifs, ands, or buts.) Appropriate to the theme of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, it is very important to also learn how to administer CPR and rescue breathing to people who have special needs and alternative anatomy/physiology when it comes to breathing. Please watch the posted video (below) on how to administer Rescue Breathing for Laryngectomees and Neck Breathers and pass this post on!  -Dr. Blum



At Ellicott City Smiles, we strive to be a non-discriminatory dental office and a safer environment, free of discrimination, regardless of race, age, sex, socio-economic status, different physical or developmental abilities, religion, culture, national origin, citizenship status, sexual preference, familial status, and gender identity.

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April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

In a previous post here on the blog, I wrote a short piece on how to identify oral, head, and/or neck cancer (re-read it!) with much of that shared information borrowed from the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. Building onto that, for the rest of the month of April, I am going to attempt to post at least several times per week on topics related to Oral, Head, and Neck Cancers, insofar as they relate to my areas of expertise.

If ANYONE, regardless of whether you are a patient or not, has a question about oral, head, or neck cancers, now is the time to ask!

Until tomorrow,

Dr. Blum


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Xylitol Candies in Caries Prevention: Six Year Xylitol Study in Estonia among School Children

Study conducted by Pentti Alanen, Pauli Isokangas, and Kristjan Gutmann

First published in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, Volume 28, Issue 3, pages 218-224, June 2000


All field studies have unequivocally reported significant reductions in dental caries occurrence associated with the use of chewing gum containing xylitol (what is xylitol?). No other xylitol products besides chewing gum have so far been tested in field trials. A 5-year follow-up study with 2- or 3-year xylitol consumption periods began in Estonia in 1994 with 740 10-year-old children in 12 schools at baseline examinations. For the study, 3 clusters each including 3–5 schools were formed on the basis of baseline caries experience. The products were used under the supervision of the teachers 3 times per day during school days but not during weekends or during the 3-month summer holiday. The daily dose of xylitol was 5 g in all groups. The children were examined every year in September by two experienced clinicians. Dental caries was recorded according to World Health Organization criteria. After 3 years, all xylitol groups showed a highly significant 35%–60% reduction in caries incident, compared with the corresponding control groups. The differences between candies, between candies and chewing gum, and between 2- and 3-year users in the xylitol groups were non-systematic, indicating no trends between the groups. The results suggest that not only xylitol chewing gum but also xylitol candies are effective in caries prevention, and that a school-based delivery system seems to offer a practical way to distribute and control the use of the xylitol products.

Continue reading

Posted in D.I.Y., Dental Hygiene Tools, Oral-Systemic, Periodontal Health, Public Health | Leave a comment