After her cleaning, the dentist did a routine check for oropharyngeal cancer, including a visual inspection and palpating Sandy’s neck. Sandy wasn’t very familiar with exams like this and thought that maybe her new dentist was doing extra tests to pad her bill.
But those “extra tests” turned up something: an enlarged lymph node on the right side of her neck. The dentist urged her to see a specialist who diagnosed Sandy with metastatic squamous cell oropharyngeal cancer. She began treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center – six weeks of radiation and seven weeks of chemotherapy – immediately.
Now Sandy has been cancer-free for five years and is telling her story to stress the importance of regular oropharyngeal cancer screenings in the dental chair.
“I don’t want anybody to think when the new dentists come in and they start with their extensive oral exams and external exams that there’s no reason for it,” she said. “We do see our dentists more often than we see our primary physicians. I would not have seen my primary physician until six months later when I was due for my physical exam.”
The ADA and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (where Sandy received treatment) have joined forces to fight oropharyngeal cancer through encouraging regular screenings, HPV vaccinations and tobacco cessation.
Watch Sandy tell the rest of her story below, then learn more about the risk factors for HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer cases like hers.