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Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly Diagnosed with Oral Cancer Again

March 02, 2018

Jim-Kelly.jpg Photo by Staff Sgt. Corenthia Fennell [Public domain]

By Sara Bondell

Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who led the Buffalo Bills to four back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in the 1990’s, announced this week he will once again be involved in a fight off the field - with cancer. 

"The oral cancer we hoped would be gone forever has returned," Kelly said in a statement. "Although I was shocked and deeply saddened to receive this news, I know that God is with me."

Kelly was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in his upper jaw in 2013. He had surgery to remove the tumors, but doctors found cancer again in 2014. After chemotherapy and radiation, he was declared cancer-free that September. 

Kelly will now begin treatment for the third time. 

While the specifics of Kelly’s latest diagnosis are unknown, Vice Chair of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Department of Head and Neck-Endocrinology Dr. Trad Wadsworth said doctors will most likely start with scans such as an MRI, PET scan or CT scan to determine the extent of the recurrence. He said a biopsy is also usually necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

"Treating a recurrence is often more difficult, challenging and involved than the initial cancer, but not always,” said Wadsworth. “Primarily, surgical intervention remains the mainstay course of treatment when possible."

Wadsworth said a patient like Kelly would benefit most from a multidisciplinary approach to treatment.

"These cancers regularly affect speech, swallowing, body image and overall quality of life," said Wadsworth. "Therefore, a multidisciplinary team of surgical, medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, speech and language therapists, nutritionists and oncology nurses is needed to address the multiple facets of cancer care for these patients."

Also important, Wadsworth said, is a strong support system. Kelly’s daughter has discussed her father’s diagnosis on Instagram, asking for prayers.

"A positive attitude and engaged support structure are invaluable not only in providing the best opportunity for successful treatment, but also for the best quality of life throughout and after that treatment," said Wadsworth.

Moffitt Cancer Center is offering free head and neck cancer screenings from 8 a.m. to noon April 13 in the Head and Neck Clinic. No appointment is necessary. For more information, call 1-888-663-3488.