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Cancer screenings save lives

You are your own best advocate when it comes to your health, just ask Louis “Sue” Wolff. Sue asked for another opinion when she didn’t feel like she was getting the help she needed when she experienced some hearing loss in her left ear. It was like her ear wouldn’t pop after a pressure change.

“I went to an ENT and they prescribed me medication for an ear infection,” shares Sue. Unfortunately, her hearing loss wouldn’t get better. When she started to have balance issues six months later, Sue knew it was time for a second opinion. To her credit, knowing something wasn’t right with her ear may have saved her life.

Sue was diagnosed with nasal pharynx, a rare cancer in the high part of her nasal and ear cavity caused by HPV. HPV(short for human papillomavirus) is a virus that can cause certain cancers and diseases in both males and females. Unfortunately, because HPV often has no signs or symptoms, many people who have the virus don’t even know it. Every year in the United States, more than 10,000 new cases of oral, head and neck cancer can be attributed to a particular strain of human papillomavirus. HPV is responsible for the rise in cancers of the oropharynx in younger non-smokers.

Her radiation oncologist at Trinity Cancer Center, Dr. Shane Hopkins, states, “The area Sue has cancer in is rare and the symptoms she experienced weren’t very noticeable, I’m glad she found the right diagnosis when she did. However, we are seeing a rise in HPV type of cancers and it’s important to get appropriate screenings on a regular basis. And while the older we get the more at risk we are for cancer, we are seeing younger individuals with head and neck cancer from HPV.” Hopkins states that a dentist is the best place to get regular screening for head and neck cancers at one’s six-month cleaning and check-up appointments. Hopkins also shares that anyone who smokes, drinks alcohol or has not had the HPV vaccine is at risk for head and neck cancer.

Hopkins shares that some of the more common symptoms of head and neck cancer include lumps in the neck, swallowing difficulties, jaw pain, a feeling of fullness in the neck, lesions in the mouth or throat or even a change in how food tastes. He also recommends anyone with these types of symptoms take advantage of the free Oral, Head and Neck Screening offered from 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at Iowa Central Community College Dental Hygiene Clinic.

Fortunately for Sue, her outlook is good, and she will be finishing her radiation and chemotherapy treatments before the end of April. She is looking forward to the next phase in her life as a recent retiree. Sue shares she just wants everyone to know the importance of getting checked out. While she has been very grateful for her healthcare team at Trinity Cancer Center, Sue hopes her story will encourage others to get checked out before they have symptoms.

Echoing her sentiments to get screened early, Dr. Hopkins states, “If you’re taking a medication to help an infection and it doesn’t seem to be working, ask your doctor, ‘Could this be something else?’ Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s your body; you know if something doesn’t seem right.”

Patty Grossnickle is a nurse coordinator at Trinity Cancer Center.