Avera Medical Minute: Head & Neck Cancer Screening - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Avera Medical Minute: Head & Neck Cancer Screening

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Dr. Bethany Helvig examining tonsil cancer survivor Dennis Polaschek's mouth. Dr. Bethany Helvig examining tonsil cancer survivor Dennis Polaschek's mouth.

How often do you take a good look inside your mouth? If you have any sores in there that just won't go away or any persistent bumps and lumps you really should get them checked by an expert. Screening for oral, head, neck cancer is as easy as scheduling an appointment and opening your mouth.

 

Dennis Polaschek from Hatfield, MN (just southeast of Pipestone) is getting one of his regular follow up exams by ENT Dr. Bethany Helvig at Midwest Ear, Nose and Throat. Dennis first saw her at the end of 2007 after a lump in his neck went undiagnosed for 2 years. 

 

Dr. Helvig says, "He had a lump in his neck and passed it off as something else. He figured it would go away and it didn't."

 

It turns out he had a tumor in his left tonsil. It was Stage 3 cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes in his neck. In January of 2008 Dr. Helvig removed that tonsil along with 32 lymph nodes. 8 of which were also cancerous. That meant radiation and chemo. He had 33 treatments of radiation and 4 treatments of chemotherapy.

 

Dennis says, "I lost 46 pounds. I just don't eat like I used to because radiation has taken away a lot of taste buds."

 

Statistics show if you are a smoker you are 7 times more likely to get head and neck cancer as someone who doesn't smoke. This increases your chances by 700%. If you consume alcohol (2 to 3 drinks a day) it also increases your chances by 700%. If you do both your odds are off the charts. Dennis stopped smoking 8 years ago.

 

Dennis says, "You know when I started smoking, geez that was the thing to do. I was 15 or 16 years old.  I probably smoked for 42 years. When you think about it, mine was in the tonsil. After all that inhaling you have to believe it was the cause. Do they know for sure? No, but you can highly suspect."

 

Even though Dennis says he wishes he would have gone to Dr. Helvig earlier, he's glad she caught the cancer when she did and the screening process is painless.

 

Dr. Helvig says, "We basically look in the mouth, a thorough visual exam.  We palpitate the area, the neck. It's not invasive. We are looking at areas you normally don't look at."

 

15 months after his surgery Dennis is doing great and he's grateful for his wife and his surgeon and for a grandchild who spent a lot of time with him during recovery.

 

Dennis says with tears welling in his eyes, "The Lord sends you a few bumps in life,  but if you've ever had a sleeping child in your arms and you look down at that face you know the good Lord sends you an angels too. He was mine during that time."

 

Midwest Ear, Nose and Throat is holding free screenings for oral, head and neck cancer April 29th from 9:00 to 4:00.

You need to schedule an appointment: Call 336-3503 or 1-888-336-3503.

    

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