Today, 68-year-old Anthony Lentola is relaxing and enjoying every minute of retirement following a long professional career at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He understands how precious each day is after coming face-to-face with cancer.
In 2013, Lentola visited Abby Geltemeyer, M.D., a UT Physicians internal medicine specialist, for an annual wellness check. During the exam, she discovered an enlarged right tonsil. “I didn’t think much of it,” said Lentola. “I had this same atypical tonsil condition for quite some time. However, she insisted that I see Dr. Karni. If it weren’t for her persistence, I wouldn’t have scheduled an appointment.”
After an examination by Ron J. Karni, M.D., a UT Physicians otorhinolaryngologist and chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology, it was determined that Lentola needed a biopsy.
“I found out it was tonsil cancer,” said Lentola. “Dr. Karni helped me make a decision to have surgery fairly quickly.”
Lentola is not alone. Each year, an estimated 70,000 people will be diagnosed with oral, head and neck cancers. “We need to educate the community about these types of cancer,” said Dr. Karni. “If we catch it early, the outcomes are better. It can really make a difference in someone’s life.”
In Lentola’s case, early detection saved him from radiation, chemotherapy—and potentially losing his life. “I can’t stress how important it is for people to go in for an annual checkup,” explained Lentola. “I am always happy to share my story with others in the hopes of saving someone else. If you don’t want to do a wellness checkup for yourself, do it for your family. My experience could have been a lot worse had it not been for Dr. Geltemeyer and Dr. Karni.”
Following robotic surgery, Lentola was given a clean bill of health. “The cancer was determined to be early stage and fortunately, it was totally encapsulated inside my tonsil,” said Lentola. “Once they removed that tonsil, I was cancer-free. I am surely one of the lucky ones.”
“If you feel a lump in your throat, that is an important symptom, and one should not ignore it,” said Dr. Karni. “It is important to know the warning signs, risk factors and prevention.”
The signs and symptoms of oral, head and neck cancer often go unnoticed. However, there are a few visible signs including: a lump in your neck, a sore in your mouth that doesn’t heal, persistent pain, white and red patches in your mouth, difficulty chewing or swallowing and vocal changes.
“Tobacco and alcohol users are at a greater risk for these types of cancer,” said Dr. Karni. “There are also a growing number of these types of cancer that are attributed to the human papillomavirus (HPV).”
“I encourage my family and friends to receive the HPV vaccine,” said Lentola. “Dr. Karni did find that my cancer was HPV-related. Whatever I can do to encourage receiving that vaccination, I do.”
According to Dr. Karni, it’s an important part of the mission of his division at McGovern Medical School to spread awareness about oral, head and neck cancer.