Take Charge

Get A-'Head' of Cancer with Head and Neck Screening

April 04, 2018

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By Sara Bondell

As Director of Breast Imaging at Moffitt, Dr. Blaise Mooney is used to spending a lot of time at the cancer center. But he never expected to walk in one day as a patient.

"I am certainly familiar with cancers and I thought I knew a lot about them, but never expected when I started to have pain in my ear that it would ever be cancer."

The ear pain started in 2012. An avid scuba diver, Mooney thought it was just an ear infection. But after months of failed rounds of antibiotics and swollen tonsils, a CT scan revealed a possible tumor. Better safe than sorry, Mooney had his tonsils removed, but the worse news was yet to come: it was cancer.

"I remember reaching over and pinching my arm hard and saying, is this real?" said Mooney.

Mooney started radiation treatments, but when the cancer spread he decided to undergo a risky procedure to remove part of his jaw, throat and tongue followed by reconstructive surgery.

Mooney battled through months of recovery; today eating and speaking are more difficult. But he knows he is lucky to be alive.

"There’s not a day that goes by that I am not thankful that I was able to get that treatment, but there’s also not a day that goes by that I think I wish I had found this earlier," said Mooney.

Screening, he believes, could have been life changing for him. "My cancer had progressed to a point where I had to undergo really extensive treatments to save my life."

Each year, more than 55,000 Americans are diagnosed with head, neck and oral cancers. The majority of them are caused by tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption or ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. And with the recent increase in oral cancer diagnoses related to human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, early detection is now more important than ever.

Physicians at Moffitt recommend performing an examination of a patient’s head, neck and throat as part of an annual physical exam, as well as an oral exam during a semiannual visit to the dentist. Anyone should see a doctor as soon as possible if experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Neck lumps visible for more than two weeks
  • Voice changes, including hoarseness, that last for more than two weeks
  • Soreness, swelling or bleeding in the mouth that persists for more than a week
  • Blood in the saliva or phlegm that lasts more than a few days
  • Persistent swallowing problems
  • Skin changes, including skin growths, discolorations or moles
  • Constant earache

As part of Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week (April 8-15) Moffitt offered free head and neck cancer screenings Friday, April 13 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Moffitt - Magnolia Campus Head and Neck Clinic (first floor by Gold Valet). The screening is open to the public, no appointments are necessary. For more information call 1-888-663-3488.