Post by Dr. Franklin:
Tony Gwynn died yesterday. He was 54! I was blown away…”54, really?” How can he be 54 and die of oral cancer…. I just hope that his premature passing sticks with some young kid or up and coming ballplayer that chews as a warning…
Dr. Bell and I don’t tend to spend a lot of time during each exam explaining to our patients what we are looking for but one of the things we do is an oral cancer screening. Every wonder why we ask you to stick your tongue out and then we grab it with that nasty gauze strip? Or run our fingers around your gums? Well thats how we look at the border of the tongue, underneath the tongue, and at all the cheek tissue… also the areas most prone to oral cancer. I am always upset when I have to do a biopsy or send a patient for a biopsy for an area called “snuff pouch keratosis”. This is when the area (usually the cheek) where a subject keeps their chew turns white and “brainy” looking. The area will heal if the behavior stops but if the tissue has been assaulted long enough it moves to the next stage called dysplasia. Dysplasia is where the cells have stopped behaving or looking like normal cheek or tongue cells. The stage after this is cancer….The only way to know which stage it’s in is to biopsy…
We find so many patients with these little areas that we have invested in a technology called a Velscope. It utilizes bioluminescence to help me and help my eyes differentiate between healthy and unhealthy cells. Healthy cells fluoresce at one rate given a certain wavelength and unhealthy cells (dysplasia, inflammation, cancer) fluoresce at an entirely different rate given the same wavelength of light. It’s an easy test that just requires us to hold the light to our eyes and view the structures of the oral cavity and pharynx (throat). This helps us know what really needs to be biopsied because is unhealthy vs whats an abnormal presentation of healthy tissue and just needs to be watched.
Oral cancer is also one of the leading new cancers found in teenage girls if you can imagine. In this case HPV and not snuff is more likely the culprit.
There is this great website “KilltheCan.org“ . One of our patients used this site to help him quit and then thankfully told me about it. He just felt like it was a great way to stay accountable to his plan to quit! Way to go Philip!
I don’t know Mr. Gwynns story but I wonder had it been caught earlier would he still be alive?