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Head and Neck Cancer Symptoms Can Mimic Common Problems

New York-native Joe Ferrer was going about his normal daily shaving routine in July 2015 when he noticed a lump on his throat that made him pause. As a spinal cancer survivor, he knew that listening to his gut instinct about his health was important in detecting his previous disease early, so he brought the lump to his doctor’s attention the same day he found it.

After extensive testing, Joseph was diagnosed with tonsil cancer and began his second cancer journey. As with most head and neck cancers, the road to recovery was challenging at times. But, because he did not delay treatment, he’s back to living a full, cancer-free life. He recently completed a 10-mile bike ride and is golfing again. He also surprised his Cancer Center caregivers with a delicious homemade Italian meal!

As a navigator for head and neck cancer patients, I help guide them every step of the way from diagnosis through treatment. And being thankful for an early diagnosis is something I often hear patients express. The earlier cancer is detected, the better the chances for a cure and the easier it is to treat the disease. In Joseph’s case, early detection played a key role in his successful outcome.

I always tell patients they are their own best advocate. Never be afraid to tell your doctor if you have a concern of any kind. According to the American Cancer Society, early signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer can mimic common illnesses, including:

  • sore throat or feeling that something is caught in the throat that doesn’t go away
  • trouble chewing or swallowing
  • numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth
  • hoarseness or voice changes that do not go away
  • a lump or mass in the neck

Each year, National Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month is observed in April as a way to bring greater awareness to these diseases. The fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population consists of people between the ages of 25 and 50. More than 48,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year.

Joe’s proactive approach to his health can be an example to us all. We should all feel empowered to ask questions, be transparent with doctors and take action when we feel like our health could be at risk.