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April 12, 2018 06:14 PM

Canker Sore Turned Cancer

Head and neck cancer accounts for four percent of all cancers in the U.S.

To bring attention to these cancers, this week is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week.
Pat Dittberner blames the mouth guard she was wearing at night, for causing her canker sores.

"I quit wearing it but I had one canker sore that would not heal. I was a smoker. So, that was not a very wise thing to do to be smoking when I had that sore in my mouth," Dittberner said. 

When she realized the sore wasn't getting any better, she was referred to an oncologist at Sanford Health. 

"I ended up having cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is what I was diagnosed with," Dittberner said. 

Dittberner had part of her tongue removed and was cancer free, until it reappeared in her left lymph node. 

"I had to have radiation and chemo treatments to make sure that this time it didn't spread some place else," Dittberner said. 

Two surgeries, chemo and radiation treatment later, Dittberner is cancer free thanks to catching it early. 

But Dr. Steve Powell with Sanford Health says catching these types of cancers early is tough. 

"We're starting to see a major shift in the type of head and neck cancer we see. We used to see people, the traditional head and neck cancers were from chewing and smoking," Powell said. 

Powell says less cases involving tobacco are popping up, and instead Human Papillomavirus related cancers are appearing. 

Most of the time symptoms will be painless, but doctors say you still need to get it checked out. 

Those cancers can appear as a painless lump in your neck, seemingly causing no problems. 

"By the time they get in to see us it's already pretty advanced and we have to do pretty intensive treatment for it at that point," Powell said.  

And while there are no current screenings for head and neck cancers, Powell says if it's caught early it is highly curable.

"I think getting regular dental checks, getting seen in the dental clinic is the first step because sometimes they are our first point of contact to diagnose patients," Powell said.

If you'd like to find out more information on signs and symptoms to watch out for, click here.

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