Checkup 13: focus on head and neck cancers


The 13th of every month WTHR and St. Vincent Health team up to encourage you to make your health a priority. The focus for May is on head and neck cancers.

On any given day, Joe Cox says you are likely to find him on the golf course with his buddies at Highland Country Club. It's a routine he missed last year after he made a shocking discovery.

"It's kind a funny, I was sitting there shaving one morning when I went down and I found this lump," said Cox.

Cox went to the doctor right away - he thought it was a dental issue. That appointment led to several others. Within weeks, a specialist told Cox he had cancer.

"It hits you like there is a punch to the stomach like no other. It's like, when they tell you you have 'the big C', it gets you," said Cox.

"Our patients in general can have a cancer really anywhere from the front of their mouth all the way down to their voice box," said Dr. Ed Krowiak, an ear, nose and throat specialist at St. Vincent Health.

Krowiak says the numbers of head and neck cancer cases are rising. It is especially frustrating to caregivers that the disease is not top of mind, therefore patients do not recognize the symptoms and delay getting care.

"If you have trouble swallowing, if you have a lump in your throat, and especially if you see or feel a lump in your neck, that really means you need to come and see somebody. A head and neck surgeon and an ENT doctor to really get that evaluated," said Krowiak.

Other symptoms are a sore in your mouth, a raspy voice, and/or a sore throat.

Joe's cancer was in his tonsils. So when his friend Greg Edwards mentioned he had a pesky sore throat, Joe urged him to get it checked out immediately.

Amazingly, Edwards had head and neck cancer too.

"I don't know whether I would have gone in that month, but that sore throat wasn't bothering me too much," said Edwards.

"I would probably be dead, I presume. I am grateful to Joe and I'm thankful to that screening. You know, bottom line, they caught it early," said Edwards.

"We do a very thorough exam of the mouth, the back of the mouth, the tonsils, the back of the tongue, and then an exam of the neck to see if there are any lymph nodes enlarged in the back of the neck. Anyone who has any abnormal findings, we then have a system in place so we can follow up with them and have a more thorough work up." said Krowiak.

"I got cancer. I lost a lot of weight," said Cox while holding up two pictures. One before cancer, the other, 75 pounds lighter, after cancer.

Joe looks at the silver lining and says weighing less is better for his golf game. This summer he plans to tee up a lot. He also plans to continue educating about head and neck cancer. He knows casual conversations on the course can be game changers.

"I think the most important thing is just don't be scared. It's out there. These guys have the ability to take care of you, but if you just sit there and let it go it's just going to get worse, it doesn't get better," said Cox.

To register, just call 1-866-U-CHECK-13, or 1-866-824-3251 between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., or you can register here.