Bloomington / Normal, IL

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Aftermath of the Fight Oral Cancer, Part 5


By Alexander Germanis

The movie Rocky was a tale of a man giving it his all. Although he had lost the fight, he had gone the distance, then the movie ended at the conclusion of the boxing match.

But, it was in the sequel that we were made witnesses to the aftermath of that fight. Rocky and even the victor, Apollo Creed, were both taken to the hospital to begin their long, painful recovery processes.

Even when you win a fight, it does not always mean you get to walk away from it unscathed. Such is certainly the case with oral cancer.

As described in previous parts of this series, the term “oral cancer” applies to cancer of the lips, sinuses, throat, the floor of the mouth, tongue, and palates. Oral cancer can be caused by smoking or chewing tobacco, alcohol use, the human papillomavirus (HPV), or lengthy sun exposure.

While McLean County Dental hygienists Kelly, Jill, Katy, and Christie perform oral cancer screenings to help prevent it, they have also been witnesses to the aftermath of many fights with oral cancer. Unfortunately, even for those who fight the cancer and win, their lives are never the same.

For some, there can be major disfigurement issues. “They end up losing two-thirds of their tongues,” Jill says. “It’s terrible. Or, they have a gap in their face and part of their jaw.”

“Faces need to be reconstructed with metal framework when two-thirds of the face needs to be removed,” Christie adds.

Chemo and radiation therapy only compound the problems for survivors of oral cancer. “One patient got oral cancer from having HPV,” Jill recalls. “They survived, but when they were having chemo and radiation, they couldn’t eat and had sores all the way down their esophagus for months. They could barely swallow.”

Chemo and radiation also make everything taste like metal, she continues. “And there are some later effects,” Christie adds, “like tons of decay and dry mouth.”

Even after surviving the bout with cancer, a patient is kept on “a short leash,” as Jill describes it, requiring continual check-ups, usually on a three-month basis, to make certain the cancer has not returned.

The hygienists do not want to scare anyone, however. “Nine times out of ten, that ulcer in your mouth is not cancer,” Jill assuages. “Don’t lose sleep over this. Don’t freak out. It’s probably not. We’re just doing it to double-check.”

Prevention is and will always be the first suggestion, as Kelly says. “I think the best thing to do — and most dentists do this — is they’ll have you come back in two weeks and if that sore is not healed up when you come back, then they’ll send you to the oral surgeon and the next step is a biopsy.”

Use your insurance, the hygienists reiterate. Go in for your semi-annual dental visits and get screened. That five extra minutes in the dentist’s chair might save your life.

Read the conclusion of this series in next month’s issue of Healthy Cells Magazine. If you missed the previous articles in this series, you may read them online at, or contact Cheryl at 309-664-2524.

For more information or to schedule a dental check-up, you may contact Emil Verban Jr., DDS at 309-662-8448, or visit McLean County Dental is located at 2103 E. Washington Street in Bloomington. Dr. Verban provides his patients both general dentistry expertise and the ability to provide specialized services, such as sedation dentistry, cosmetic procedures, and dental implants.