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After being diagnosed with oral cancer by John Farnham, how can you get a life-saving test?


Shocking news of the rock legend John Farnham’s oral cancer diagnosis Doctors warn Australians to undergo regular check-ups.

Warning: This story contains naturalistic images that may disturb readers.

Farnham underwent extensive surgery and faces a long recovery process, but it wasn’t until last weekend that we learned his diagnosis.

His son Rob Farnham told A Current Affather that his father, who likes to sleep on his side, was experiencing some discomfort while sleeping and noticed a lump.

“He just thought it was an ulcer … and it turned out to be cancerous … it’s horrible,” he said.

Rob said his mom made Farnham go to the dentist, who later found what looked like an ulcer, but the specialists diagnosed it as oral cancer.

How to know if you have oral cancer

Australian Dental Association federal treasurer Martin Webb, who is based on the Sunshine Coast, said dentists were checking soft tissues for mouth and oral cancer during examinations.

“You look at the inside of the mouth, you look at the lips, you look at the floor of the mouth and the tissue near the tongue,” he said.

“A lot of times you actually take the tongue with a piece of gauze and pull it to the side to check the back of the tongue.

“You’re looking in the throat area for the main areas that cause problems with oral cancer.”

The lesions can often look like ulcers, but they can be cancerous.(Submitted by: Martin Webb)

What does it look like?

Maleny’s dentist said the cancer often presents as a rough or swollen area with a red or white lesion.

“When you see something white, or red, or ulcerated, you start to think it might be something bad, and often an ulcer, a common mouth ulcer, should heal on its own within a week or two,” Dr. Webb said.

“A lot of times we actually ask the patient to come back in a couple of weeks to check on an injury that looks a little suspicious.

Close-up of a medical image of a patient's mouth, the tissue around the teeth is cancerous and filled with pus
A severe case of oral cancer.(Submitted by: Martin Webb)

“If it’s still there, or it’s grown, we’ll send them to the pathologist or the hospital to get it checked out.”

Dr. Webb said oral cancer most commonly occurs in the soft tissues of the lips, tongue, mouth, throat and salivary glands.

“Sometimes you check the side of your neck, the lymph nodes, and feel if you have what’s called lymphadenopathy, which is a swollen area.”

John Farnham sings into the microphone.
John Farnham is recovering from surgery for oral cancer.(AAP: Joel Corrett)

Are there risk factors?

According to the Cancer Council, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are responsible for 90 per cent of oral cancer cases in Australia.

Headshot of a middle-aged white man with blue eyes wearing a suit
Dr. Webb says there is a reasonable survival rate for oral cancer.(Submitted by: Martin Webb)

Sun exposure is a huge risk factor for lips, he said.

“If you’re going to be outside, try to cover your face with a hat and put sunscreen or zinc on your lips to prevent lip cancer,” he said.

“Any sore in your mouth, any lump or bump that doesn’t go away on its own, definitely go and show it to your dentist or doctor so you can get it checked out and make sure it’s not something bad.”

What does treatment involve?

Dr. Webb said that if you were diagnosed with oral cancer, there was a reasonable survival rate, with 74 percent of patients alive after five years.

Initially, treatment involves removing as much of the cancerous tissue as possible.

“In the mouth, you would say about 1 to 2 centimeters of tissue around the lesion,” he said.

“So if it’s on the side of the tongue, you need to remove part of the tongue and the floor of the mouth near the tongue to try to remove any tissue that might be around it.

“If it’s near the jaw, often surgeons will actually take part of the jaw, remove it and replace it with a piece of bone… sometimes they’ll take part of one of the bones in the leg to create a jaw for you.”


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