(Washington, DC) – Katie Easterbrook was just 28-years old in 2009 when she noticed a tingling sensation on the tip of her tongue. She went to the doctor who, by gently squeezing her tongue, was quickly able to tell that she had a mass in her tongue that needed further investigation. Tests revealed adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of oral cancer originating in the salivary glands that usually occurs in people twice her age.
"I went to the doctor as soon as there were noticeable symptoms, but a picture I recently found of myself from 18 months before my diagnosis shows indications that the mass might have been there at that time," said Katie, a community events and catering coordinator living in Bristow, Virginia. "I didn't really think anything of it, or that it was anything serious. Once the biopsy revealed that it was cancer, I was not as scared as I thought I'd be. My first question to the doctor was, 'now that we know what it is, how do we get rid of it?' I had surgery followed by radiation and fortunately have not had any major complications or speech impediments. I enjoy talking and need to talk to the public for my work."
Katie had her surgery at Georgetown University Hospital with Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon Kenneth Newkirk, MD who removed the cancer and, along with a plastic surgeon, rebuilt her tongue with a skin graft from her wrist.
"Oral and head and neck cancers are on the rise in the United States," said Dr. Newkirk. Luckily, in Katie's case we caught it early enough that she is cancer free right now."
Early detection of cancers like Katie's as well as cancers of the lips, mouth throat, nasal cavity and pharynx are the reason Georgetown's Department of Otolaryngology will hold free oral head and neck cancer screenings on Saturday May 14, 2011 from 9 a.m.–Noon at Georgetown University Hospital.
Dr. Newkirk says adults who are smokers (more than a pack a day) and drinkers who consume four to five drinks a day or who have used chewing tobacco are at highest risk of developing oral cancers. "We will do a very simple exam of the mouth, tongue and the lymph nodes in the neck to see if there is anything suspicious that needs to be followed up. This exam is painless, will take five to 10 minutes, and could be life-saving."
Symptoms of an oral cancer are:
• Sore in the mouth that won't heal after two weeks
• Pain in the mouth or tongue lasting more than two weeks
• Trouble swallowing or chewing
• Throat pain that's lasted longer than two weeks
• Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
• Any unusual bumps in the mouth or on the tongue
Although curable if caught early, there are about 36,540 cases of oral cancer diagnosed in the US each year, resulting in about 7,880 deaths according to the American Cancer Society. A form of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type. African Americans are at a greater risk for having the cancer be further along when it's diagnosed so have a worse prognosis than other ethnic groups.
"I don't think people are aware that cancer can form in your tongue," said Katie Easterbrook, who is now advocating for more research dollars and support for people with adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC). "It's eye opening to know that a little bump on your tongue can be life threatening. I hope that people at risk will get screened. It's so easy and it can save your life." You can learn more about adenoid cystic carcinoma at www.accrf.org.
The screening is free but registration is required by calling 202-444-1351 or visit www.GeorgetownUniversityHospital.org/Otolaryngology.
Media Contact: Marianne Worley
Patient Contact: 202-342-2400