BY JOANA BRECKNER
A ROUTINE dentist
visit saved my life
I am a four-year sur-
vivor of oral cancer. I
am married, ;; years
old and the mother of
two girls, ages ;; and ;;.
I am not a smoker or
drinker, and have been in good health my
In ;;;;, during a teeth cleaning, my
dentist discovered precancerous white
spots on my tongue. The biopsy was benign,
but for the next seven years I was monitored
by my dentist and doctor. My first tumor,
small and contained, was removed in ;;;;.
Four years later, my cancer returned. I
under went a ;;-hour surgery removing half
my tongue, which was rebuilt with grafts
from my forearm, followed up by radiation
and chemotherapy. A year later cancer
reoccurred on my jugular vein. More surgery, more chemotherapy, more radiation.
Four years later, my story has a happy
ending, and by sharing it I hope to raise
awareness of oral cancer and screenings.
Traditionally, individuals with the highest risk of developing oral cancer have been
those who smoke, use tobacco or drink
alcohol heavily, but exposure to the human
papillomavirus (HPV) is no w a significant
factor. The fastest-growing oral cancer
population is young nonsmokers with HPV.
Currently there is no national program
for oral cancer screenings. The American
Dental Association states that “just doing
‘opportunistic’ cancer screenings ... would
yield tens of thousands of opportunities to
catch oral cancer in its early stages.”
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation,
when oral cancer is found at early stages of
development, patients have an ;; to ;;
percent survival rate.
Here are easy, potentially lifesaving
steps to take charge of your oral health.
•Be sure your dentist or qualified
hygienist “cleans and screens” at every
routine visit. This visual and manual
screening takes less than five minutes.
• There is a strong link between HPV
and oral cancer. Ask your children’s pediatrician and dentist for more information
about the HPV vaccination. The Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention recommends boys and girls receive the HPV vaccination at age ;; or ;;.
• If a sore throat or swallowing problems persist for more than two weeks, contact your doctor.
I am alive because of early detection and
lifesaving surgeries and treatments. My
quality of life is excellent, and I am able to
eat, drink, taste and live pain-free. A scar
running from my lip to my chin and a slight
speech impediment remind me of cancer
every day. Like many survivors, I am searching for my new normal. However, I am alive,
loving life and grateful—especially for my
conscientious dentist. C
Costco member Joana Breckner is a cancer
advocate and professional organizer.
Detecting oral cancer
FOR YOUR HEALTH
HEPATITIS C IS an infection of the liver
caused by a virus. As many as 3. 9 million
people in the U.S. have hepatitis C,
according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms
and do not know they are infected.
Acute hepatitis C, in the first several
months after infection, can range in
severity from a mild illness with few
or no symptoms to a serious condition
requiring hospitalization. Symptoms can
include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite,
upset stomach, vomiting, dark urine,
gray-colored stool, joint pain and yellow
skin and eyes.
About 20 percent of people are able
to get rid of the virus without treatment in
the first six months; those unable to get
rid of it may develop a chronic lifelong
infection that over time can cause liver
disease, liver failure and liver cancer.
TESTING AND TREATMENT
The only way to know if you have
hepatitis C is to get tested. The CDC rec-
ommends testing for persons who:
• Were born between 1945 and 1965.
• Received donated blood or organs
• Have ever injected drugs, including
• Have HIV or AIDS.
• Have abnormal liver tests or liver
• Have had exposure to someone with
Hepatitis C can be treated, but
treatment depends on several factors, so
it is important to see a doctor experienced in treating it. New and improved
treatments are available that can cure
hepatitis C for many people.
To prevent hepatitis C, safeguard
yourself in the following ways:
• Avoid sharing or reusing needles,
syringes or any other injection equipment.
• Do not use personal items that may
have come into contact with an infected
person’s blood, such as razors or tooth-brushes.
• Do not get tattoos or body piercings
from an unlicensed facility or in an informal setting.
For more information, search for the
hepatitis C fact sheet on the CDC website,
Oral cancer frequently has no symptoms.
When symptoms do occur, the most
•A sore or ulcer on the lip or in the
mouth that does not heal.
•A lump on the lip, in the mouth or in
•A white or red patch on the gums,
tongue or lining of the mouth.
•Unusual bleeding, pain or numbness
in the mouth.
•Oral pain that does not go away.
•Difficulty or pain with chewing, swallowing or jaw opening.
•Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
• Tooth loosening.
•Sensory loss in the face.
•Abnormal taste in the mouth.
• Tongue problems.—JB
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