"The free screening event at The Hope Center drew participants from the northwest Georgia area, including residents from Woodstock, Dalton, Ellijay, Calhoun, Alpharetta, Jasper, Acworth, Kennesaw, Canton, Rome and Cartersville," Tyra said. "A couple of participants even drove from Chattanooga to take advantage of the important health screenings. Screenings began at 1 p.m. and by 5 p.m. 83 people had been screened. ... Participants were mostly women over the age of 40, although there were several male participants.
"Smoking cessation information [also] was available from Pfizer and the American Cancer Society. Among the screening findings were oral lesions, neck masses and leukoplakia. Although the screenings were designed to detect the presence of oral, head or neck cancer, other conditions including TMJ and acid reflux were noted among participants."
During the offering -- held six days following the end of Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week -- five physicians donated their time to conduct the 10-minute screenings: Dr. Brad Goff, otolaryngologist; Dr. William Thoms, radiation oncologist; Dr. Lorie Hughes, radiation oncologist; Dr. Satyen Mehta, medical oncologist/hematologist; and Dr. Madhurima Uppalapati, medical oncologist/hematologist.
"What we're addressing here is the fact that oral cancer -- and by that we mean cancer in the cheeks or gums or the front of the tongue -- is very common, particularly because of the use of smokeless tobacco," Thoms said. "It's even common now by kids. All these kids use smokeless because they see various athletic stars using it, so it's rising in popularity. So that's how it can be a 10-minute screening, [where we] take a tongue depressor or gauze, move the tongue, look on the roof of the mouth, the [side] areas for any telltale signs of cancer. There's a number of different ones. They're not always painful to the patient but they can become obvious [such as] any persistent irritation or inflammation on the gums or tongue -- that needs to be addressed, [especially] irritation that lasts for days to weeks and doesn't seem to be letting up.
"But sometimes, you can see unusual red or white patches, particularly in areas where the patient would be using the smokeless tobacco products -- they stick it between the cheek and gum. A lot of these guys, you're looking in their mouth and it's really alarming. You'll look in their mouth and see this white sort of cobblestone pattern between the gum and the cheek. And you'll say, 'You put your tobacco there, right?' And they say, 'Oh yeah, I've been doing that for years.' So ... obviously the risk factors for this are the uses of smokeless or other tobacco products for a long time, coupled sometimes with alcohol use."
With the surgeries for these types of cancer potentially involving the removal of a portion of a patient's tongue or jaw, Thoms urges adults who did not participate in Friday's offering to receive screenings during their annual physician visit.
"Forty thousand cases of head and neck cancer patients are diagnosed in the U.S. each year," said Frank Homiller, director and medical physicist at The Hope Center, a facility of Cartersville Medical Center. "It is the sixth most common form of cancer in the U.S. The most important risk factors for head and neck cancers are tobacco and alcohol use. According to the National Cancer Institute, 85 percent of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use.
"When cancers of the head and neck are found early, we do very well treating them, with a very high cure rate. The oral examination is quick and painless and should be done as part of an annual physician checkup or dental checkup. Unfortunately, people don't tend to go to the doctor until they have had symptoms for quite some time and this can make treatment much more challenging. We believe the problem has grown much worse with the economic downturn causing many people to lose health insurance, so we felt it was important to offer a free screening to those who might not have had an opportunity otherwise. We're very grateful to Dr. Goff, Dr. Hughes, Dr. Thoms, Dr. Uppalapati and Dr. Mehta for donating their time and skills for this event."