Monthly Archives: September 2002

Cancer survivor shows Shady Spring students what can happen if you dip

  • 9/18/2002
  • West Virginia
  • Bev Davis
  • Register-Herald

When Gruen Von Behrens speaks, kids listen. It’s more than his words, however, that captures their full attention. His face deformed and scarred from 27 different surgeries to correct damage caused by oral cancer, the 25-year-old Illinois native offers teens a passionate message – look at the results of spit tobacco use and beat the addiction while there’s still time.

“I started dipping when I was 13. I thought it was a cool thing to do. I can tell you this. Looking the way I do now is not cool,” he told more than 100 Shady Spring High School sophomores gathered Tuesday for a special assembly in the school’s cafeteria.

Von Behrens suspected he had mouth cancer several months before he had the courage to see a doctor. “My tongue was completely split and it was all white and yucky looking. I knew it was cancer, but I didn’t want to face it. Cancer has made my life a living hell. Every time I turn around, they are putting me in the hospital, either to have surgery or some kind of treatment. Do you think it’s cool to have your girlfriend kiss you and you can’t even feel it? Trust me, it isn’t. It’s terrible,” he said.

Students sat in rapt silence as the cancer victim told his story. When he asked how many of them knew someone who uses spit tobacco, scores of hands went up. RESA I tobacco prevention specialist Lori McGraw asked students how many thought spit tobacco was a safer alternative to smoking. About the same number of people responded. “It’s not a safe alternative. No matter what you see in the commercials, no matter how many sports heroes use it, no matter how many relatives you had who used it and never got cancer, you never know who will be the one who gets it,” McGraw said.

McGraw also made the contention that advertisers will not use people such as Von Behrens in their ads. “You’ll never see a cancer victim in a tobacco ad. You see beautiful, healthy people. Tobacco companies will not show you what can happen when you use their products,” McGraw said. “You can’t hide something like this,” Von Behrens said, pointing to his misshapen jaw line. “I’m not here today for me. I’m here for you. You can’t quit unless something drives you to do it. I hope I can be that motivation for you.”

Following the presentation, students said they were impressed by what Von Behrens had to say. “It’s scary,” 15-year-old Belinda Cook said. “I don’t use tobacco, but I think what he had to say would scare me enough to quit.” Christopher Burroughs, 15, agreed. “I don’t use tobacco, either, but I think we should listen to him because he’s right. There’s a big price to pay for a small habit.” Ashley Scott, 15, also a non-user, said she hoped those who use tobacco would take the speaker’s message to heart. “It’s good that he came and talked to us. When you can actually see what tobacco use can do, it really makes you think,” Scott said.

Principal Daniel Moye said the school has seen a drop in tobacco use on school grounds from more than 200 a few years ago to only 11 last year. “When we catch them, we call the police and have them fined. It seems to be working.” He said he hopes the first-person account given by Von Behrens will have a lasting impact on the students. “We can tell students not to use tobacco and we can talk until we’re blue in the face, but when they see someone like him and hear what he has to say, it makes a stronger statement than we ever could.”

Von Behrens is visiting several southern West Virginia schools as a representative of the National Spit Tobacco Education Program. Promoters of his tour say they are particularly concerned about the high incidence of tobacco use among teens in West Virginia. According to the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, West Virginia had the third worst male spit tobacco use rate in the nation at 28.6 in grades nine through 12. The rate among adult males is the highest in the nation, a dubious distinction West Virginia has held since 1996.

September, 2002|Archive|

Risk of mouth and throat cancer rises with amount of alcohol not duration

  • 9/15/2002
  • Aviano, Italy
  • Dr. Silvia Franceschi
  • International Journal of Cancer, 85:787-790

The higher the consumption of alcohol the greater the risk of cancer of the mouth or pharynx, Italian researchers report in a recent issue of the International Journal of Cancer. Also, while duration of drinking has no bearing on the risk, they found that the risk persists after quitting alcohol.

Dr. Silvia Franceschi, of the Centro di Riferimento Oncologico in Aviano, Italy, and colleagues interviewed 754 men and women in either Switzerland or Italy with incident cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx. The subjects answered questions regarding lifetime smoking and drinking habits. The investigators also interviewed 1,775 control subjects who were in the hospital for acute, non-neoplastic diseases.

Drinkers of 20 alcoholic drinks per week or less showed similar odds ratios for oral cavity or pharynx cancer as never drinkers. But above that level, the risk of oral cavity or pharynx cancer increased with the number of alcoholic drinks per week. The odds ratio for individuals who consumed 91 drinks per week or more was 11.6 compared with never drinkers.

Dr. Franceschi’s group reports that the risk in former drinkers was 1.9 times that of current drinkers. However, former drinkers who had also quit smoking had a lower risk than current drinkers.

“The direct association between alcohol intake and risk of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx is strongly dose-dependent but apparently unaffected by duration of alcohol consumption,” Dr. Franceschi and co-authors say. The authors note that “no clear benefit from drinking cessation had emerged up to at least 10 years after stopping” in this group.

“The persistence of risk elevation several years after drinking cessation suggests that the role of alcohol is complex and it probably affects more than one stage of oral carcinogenesis,” the authors say.

September, 2002|Archive|

Patient’s Cancer Missed 19 Times

  • 9/10/2002
  • Yorkshire, UK
  • BBC News

The government is being urged to review cancer care services after a man suffering from oral cancer was misdiagnosed by different doctors on 19 separate occasions. Father-of-three Steve Harley, 41, now faces a far tougher fight against the disease because the tumour has spread.

Whereas doctors might have been able to remove the cancer if he had been diagnosed earlier, it is currently inoperable, and specialists are using chemotherapy to try to shrink it before trying surgery. Mr Harley is now facing an intensive seven-week course of radiotherapy. If that fails, he faces losing his tongue, larynx and voice box – and his overall chances of survival are far lower. Mr Harley’s MP, Eric Illsley, warned the government in the House of Commons on Wednesday that Mr Harley’s case highlighted serious failings in health provision in England.

The businessman, from Barnsley, south Yorkshire, first developed throat pains in July last year. He says he visited his GP, who told him it was probably an infection and sent him home with antibiotics. However, it failed to clear up, and he visited the GP on seven further occasions, each time being told that nothing could be found. He says he was not sent for further investigations despite reporting symptoms that were clear signs that something could be wrong – a persistent and agonising earache in addition to the earlier sore throat.

He eventually saw four different GPs, five hospital doctors and three specialists. “I did ask fairly early on whether the GP thought I had cancer, and he said no.” Even if he had been referred, specialist services in Barnsley were less than ideal – one ear, nose and throat expert was off sick, and the other had left.

Mr Harley said: “I went privately to try and speed the system up. I think the education of GPs and consultants is obviously sadly lacking. “I understand that there is a test that could be done fairly early which could have spotted it.”

Intense pain

He made repeated trips to accident and emergency departments to request stronger painkillers. He said: “I was given low priority – all they did was take my blood pressure.” He says the doctors believed that, despite reporting intense pain, he was simply seeking attention. He told the BBC that on one occasion, a doctor said to him: “If I were your brother, I would tell you to go home and live your life.” The cancer was eventually spotted after he had lost two stones in weight because the tumor was beginning to block his throat.

What this comes back to is the need for education and training of doctors

Mr Illsley told the Commons: “This was a man with private medical insurance. I wonder what it would have been like for anyone who was a NHS patient in these circumstances. “I am becoming a little tired of standing in this chamber complaining about poor health treatment that my constituents receive.”

Professor Mike Richards, the newly-appointed “National Cancer Director”, said that while he could not guarantee that cases like this would not happen in future, the service overall would be improved. He said: “We certainly need to invest more in communication skills because we know from patients that all too often they weren’t adequately heard by doctors and the way they were treated was not as good as it should have been.”

Oral cancers can initially have the appearance of ulcers or other normal mouth problems. If such problems fail to clear up by themselves or to respond to treatment, doctors are advised to be suspicious and refer for further tests. Oral cancer is one of the more dangerous cancers, as only one in two people survive – early diagnosis improves survival chances. Approximately 3,400 people are diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK.

Sue James, chief executive of Barnsley District General Hospital NHS Trust, described the case as a “tragedy”, but said the hospital had done all it could on the occasions when Mr Harley attended its casualty department. She said: “The A&E department is there to treat accidents and emergency situations. It’s much better for people with long term conditions to be referred to their GP.” Professor Gordon McVie, Cancer Research Campaigns Director General, said: “Throat cancer is rare but this is no excuse. “While GPs are not used to seeing a patient’s mouth as often as a dentist is, for example, specialists should know better.”

September, 2002|Archive|

ADA Awarded 1.2 Million Dollar Grant

  • 10/1/2002
  • Chicago
  • American Dental Association

The American Dental Association (ADA) announced yesterday it received a grant of $1.2 million from the National Cancer Institute to develop and implement a continuing education program for oral health care professionals in the fight against oral cancer.

“Despite advances in oral cancer treatment, only about half of all persons diagnosed with it survive more than five years,” says ADA President Dr. D. Gregory Chadwick. “We want to see those survival numbers go up, and that is why we are so extremely pleased with this award because it will help bring prevention and early detection to the forefront in our battle against oral cancer.”

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates some 28,900 oral cancer cases will occur this year, resulting in 7,400 deaths. Incidence rates are more than twice as high in men as in women and are greatest in men over age 40. Risk factors include cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking, use of smokeless tobacco and excessive consumption of alcohol. However, 25 percent of oral cancer victims do not smoke or have any other known risk factors.

The five-year grant will focus on oral cancer prevention, with long-range goals of increasing the number of dentists who counsel at-risk patients about stopping tobacco use, according to principal investigator Dr. Sol Silverman, professor of oral medicine, University of California at San Francisco. Through this program, he added, we also will lay the foundation to increase detection of oral cancer at its earliest, most curable stage.

“Initially, our project will target practicing dentists in the United States for additional education on oral cancer prevention and reducing risks of the disease for their patients,” Dr. Silverman explains. “We also will explore the potential use of this continuing education program for other health care professionals, including dental hygienists, nurse practitioners and primary care physicians.”

A key component of the project’s prevention program will include tobacco-cessation training for dentists, according to project collaborator Dr. K. Vendrell Rankin, associate professor, Baylor College of Dentistry, The Texas A&M Health Science Center.

“Any type of tobacco use is a major risk factor for oral cancer,” said Dr. Rankin, who will oversee the design and implementation of the tobacco cessation part of the educational program. “For example, cigar smokers have a four to 10 times greater risk of dying from cancer of the oral cavity, throat or esophagus compared with nonsmokers.”

Dr. Rankin, a tobacco cessation expert, said the additional education for dentists is essential because 12 percent of 8th graders and nearly 30 percent of 12th graders become regular tobacco users. It is estimated that between two and three thousand youth in the United States become regular tobacco users each day, she added.

“The age group most likely to benefit from tobacco cessation information from dentists is the group that visits their dentist with greater frequency than their physician,” she explained.

According to the ACS, cancer can affect any part of the oral cavity, including the lip, tongue, mouth and throat, with five-year and 10-year survival rates placed at 54 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

Signs to look for include:

* a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal;
* a color change of the oral tissue;
* a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small-eroded area; or
* pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips.

Responding to the need for increased education and awareness of oral cancer is not new to the ADA. Just last year, the dental association conducted a national oral cancer public service campaign, encouraging the public to take an active role in learning the signs of the disease that kills nearly one American every hour.

The oral cancer awareness campaign featured two different public service advertisements that appeared on a variety of outdoor venues, including billboards, bus-shelter signs and commuter bulletins. Both featured a small, white spot on the tongue with the message, “It’s tiny now. Don’t let it grow up to be oral cancer. Testing is now painless. See your dentist.”

OCF Note: This new ADA program will be headed up by Dr. Sol Silverman, a member of the Oral Cancer Foundation Advisory Board, and strong supporter of OCF’s efforts. We have high hopes that with Dr. Silverman at the helm of this new project that it will begin to make a dent in both the public’s awareness of oral cancer, and the dental professions involvement in aggressively looking for it.

Also we would like to state that in OCF’s opinion the ADA has not previously given enough attention to the issue of oral cancer. In the last two paragraphs of this news article taken from a release of theirs, they state that “Responding to the need for increased education and awareness of oral cancer is not new to the ADA. Just last year, the dental association conducted a national oral cancer public service campaign, encouraging the public to take an active role in learning the signs of the disease…” We would like to state that it was a 2.5 million dollar grant from OCF supporter Oral CDx president Mark Rutenberg which instigated this program, and made it possible. Without his efforts the campaign most likely would not have happened.

September, 2002|Archive|

The Oral Cancer Foundation is selected to National Cancer Institutes list of resources

  • 9/1/2002
  • Bethesda, MD
  • The National Cancer Institute

The National Cancer Institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, has chosen the Oral Cancer Foundation as a resource to be added to the NCI Fact Sheet, a guide which it provides to the American public, and in particular to those people with cancer and their family members, that lists organizations which provide information and services to those with cancer. “Knowledge is empowering when fighting a killer such as cancer. The NCI has always been the primary source for the dissemination of information regarding all cancers to both professionals and the public, providing timely, unbiased, and accurate information. OCF is proud to have met the criteria established by the NCI for inclusion in its list of resources for patients and families”, said Brian Hill, OCF’s founder and Executive Director. The Oral Cancer Foundation is a non-profit entity created for the purpose of raising the awareness of oral cancer in both the professional and public sectors. Providing information, resources, and support to patients and family members, as well as caregivers, are core goals of the foundation.

September, 2002|Archive|