Otto Binder of Gulfport went to visit a local doctor after feeling what he thought was a cold sore on his tongue late last year.
Several days later, the sore was causing Binder such tremendous pain that he went to a hospital emergency room in Gulfport.
The emergency room doctor delivered unwelcome news: Binder, a smoker, had developed tongue cancer.
“I started smoking around 18, 19,” Binder said last month, four months after surgeons at the University of Mississippi Medical Center removed the cancer. “I’m now 53. I knew it wasn’t any good for me. I quit several times.”
Use of tobacco products is the No. 1 cause of head and neck cancer, experts say.
“We also are beginning to identify that diet has a huge impact on the incidence of head and neck cancer as well as genetics,” said Dr. Karen Pitman, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the Medical Center. “There are studies coming out now that show people who eat more fruits and vegetables are less susceptible to it.”
John Ramsey of Clinton, who has never used tobacco products, said doctors have been unable to tell him what caused him to develop tongue cancer in 1988. Ramsey said he initially didn’t know what to think of the sore on his tongue.
“It didn’t hurt,” said Ramsey, a former Nashville resident. “It didn’t cause me any discomfort. I didn’t totally ignore it. I did go see an oral surgeon. They tried to treat it with some topical cream.”
Ramsey has undergone 13 surgeries since the cancer was first detected. The majority of the surgeries were due to leukoplakia, said Ramsey, who also unsuccessfully sought alternative cancer treatment in Nevada.
Ramsey last underwent surgery in July at the Medical Center. He has been cancer free since.
Ramsey said he has many things to be thankful for despite what he has been through.
“I can still taste,” he said. “Chewing is bit more difficult but swallowing is not a real problem. My speech . . . has been only mildly effected.”
It is estimated that more than 50,000 men and women in this country will develop cancers of the lips, mouth, throat, and voice box this year, statistics show.
For those who use tobacco, it is especially important to be aware
of the warning signs that may include a lump in the neck, persistent hoarseness and a sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal.
Binder said he has learned a lot about head and neck cancer in the past several months. He said he is using his experience as motivation to quit smoking for good.
“It had gotten so bad I would go out in thunderstorms for some cigarettes,” said Binder, who often smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day. “It’s a bad addictive drug. It’s all negative. There is nothing positive about it.”