Screenings help Wenzel, other patients discover oral cancer

Screenings help Wenzel, other patients discover oral cancer

UI Cancer Center hosting head, neck and oral cancer screenings next week

Matthew Wenzel received a surprise on his 50th birthday, but the ‘gift’ wasn’t on his wish list. It was an oral cancer diagnosis.

It all a started with Wenzel’s swollen tongue and a bit of intuition. A few weeks prior to his diagnosis, Wenzel felt his tongue was enlarged, so he followed his instincts to visit an oral surgeon for a screening. It was recommended to him after that visit that a biopsy be performed to inspect for cancer. He was surprised to learn that potentially deadly lesions had formed under his tongue and on the floor of his mouth. Wenzel was shocked, as he has never smoked or chewed tobacco; he assumed oral cancer was the result of these types of activities.

Following his diagnosis, Wenzel was referred to Virginie Achim, MD, an otolaryngologist at UI Health, for treatment. Feeling totally comfortable in her hands, Wenzel was relieved to learn that she would be with him throughout his entire journey. He also enjoyed having his own personal “pit crew”, a group of medical students who visited him regularly at the same time each day, usually when the old sitcom “Leave it to Beaver” aired on television in his recovery room. The entire team was prepared to care for his needs. “They were great, I kind of miss them,” he says of the tight-knit personal medical ‘crew’. After several surgeries and a recovery period, he’s now cancer free.

While Wenzel temporarily lost his taste buds during radiation therapy, he maintained a positive outlook. He joked that he was hoping to lose some weight – which he did – but he preferred to do it his way instead of cancer’s. An avid runner, Wenzel said today he is “feeling great.” In fact, he maintained his exercise routine throughout his treatment, and just four short weeks after completing radiation he participated in a 24-hour endurance race.

Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week 2019 is April 8-15, sponsored by the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance and supported by the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. According to a Harris Interactive survey, 71 percent of Americans say they have not been examined by a medical professional for oral, head, and neck cancer. Given the rise in oral cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV), screening for early detection of this disease is more important than ever. The Academy is urging you to participate by conducting a free screening at your medical practice, clinic, hospital or medical university.

The University of Illinois Cancer Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry will provide free head and neck cancer and oral cancer screenings at community health centers around Chicago April 8-12. The screenings take as little as five minutes, and no longer than 10 minutes. No appointment or insurance is required; walk-ins are welcome.

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