Few would consider accidentally biting their tongue lucky. But for Rosalyn Salanguit, the injury saved her life. Now, she’s sharing her story to bring awareness for the importance of oral cancer care close to home.
Salanguit, 35 at the time, bit her tongue while eating lunch in spring of 2015 and the wound refused to heal for months. After unsuccessfully treating it with painkillers, Salanguit visited her dentist in October. He immediately sent her to pathology, where she was diagnosed with Stage 2 tongue cancer.
The cancer was fast-moving and had advanced to Stage 4 just two months later. Salanguit required the removal of half her tongue, a graft (using tissue and an artery from her forearm) and the dissection of 47 lymph nodes in her neck. Chemotherapy and radiation followed. As did another surgery to remove two teeth to save her jaw.
“My doctors warned I might not speak or eat without a feeding tube again,” Salanguit says. Eight years later, she’s able to do both thanks to her team at BC Cancer.
“I was fortunate to access oral cancer care close to home, supported by my family and friends,” she says. But this is not yet the case for the 40 per cent of the oral patients currently seen at BC Cancer – Surrey who need to travel from other parts of the Fraser region for care.
However, thanks to the generosity of BC Cancer Foundation donors, a new Oral Oncology and Dentistry Clinic at BC Cancer – Abbotsford is near completion. The state-of-the-art clinic will be the only one in the province with direct access to an operating room for complex reconstructive surgical procedures.
The final step is to equip the clinic with a Cone Beam CT (CBCT) – a critical piece of equipment essential for reconstructive procedures, surgical planning and advancing early detection.
Oral cancer survival rates drop from 80 per cent to 20 per cent in late-stage diagnoses, which can also result in significant disfiguration that takes a tremendous psychological toll on patients’ quality of life, says Dr. Suzanne Carlisle, BC Cancer department head, Oral Oncology/Dentistry Surrey.
“I see heartbreaking cases — people with facial deformities and people who haven’t been able to eat solid food for years. We need to address their oral health needs so they can eat, smile and be healthy again.”
Oral cancer rates typically increase with age, tobacco and alcohol use. However, the disease is becoming more common in young people like Salanguit.
It’s also more prevalent in certain population. In the South Asian community one in 150 people (compared to one in 800 in the general population) are at higher risk. With South Asians representing 10 per cent of B.C.’s population, many of whom call the Fraser Valley home, bolstering oral cancer care at BC Cancer – Abbotsford is crucial to improving cancer outcomes in the community.
To help bring this state-of-the-art Oral Oncology and Dentistry Clinic to Abbotsford, visit bccancerfoundation.com/fraser