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Common cold? It could be cancer

25 May 2012

Health Care

When Robert Hobbs developed what seemed to be a cold sore on his lip, he did not take much notice.

But after it failed to disappear he was sent to Southend University Hospital for a biopsy which revealed cancer. Within months it had spread to the lymph nodes in his neck.

Robert, 54, from Rayleigh, underwent surgery and has now just had his five-year check-up with maxillofacial consultant Mr Jamal Siddiqi.

Robert, an electrical contracts manager, is now a leading light in Southend's head and neck cancer support group, while his wife, Angie, is secretary.

Angie, 52, said: "We have found the group very helpful for sharing each other's techniques and tips for coping."

The couple will be atSouthend Civic CentreonThursday, June 14when the hospital stages ahead and neck cancer exhibition.

Angie said: "We are both keen that there should be more awareness. Our GP admitted he was a bit naïve about it - Robert's symptoms were dismissed as 'a bit of a cold' for a few months.

"We cannot sing the praises of Southend Hospital's ear, nose and throat clinic enough. All the staff are very caring and nothing is ever too much trouble. They support you whenever you need it."

Also at next month's exhibition will be members of the laryngectomy club - patients who have had their voice box removed due to cancer.

Club president Jim Hudson, 75, became aware something was wrong when the back of his throat felt scratched, as if he had swallowed a fish bone. He was referred to Southend University Hospital for an endoscopy which revealed the cancer. Jim underwent radiotherapy for five months before surgery to remove the larynx and was subsequently fitted with a Blom- Singer valve which fits between his wind pipe (trachea) and food pipe (oesophagus) and allows him to speak.

He said: "I was quite philosophical about it. When I knew there was no alternative, I soon accepted it. It can only be of benefit."

Every year, the hospital sees up to 150 new patients with head and neck cancer. It could affect the tonsils, tongue, palate, gums, floor of mouth, nose, eye, larynx and parotid or thyroid glands. 

Clinical nurse specialist Anne Hill said: "Patients are getting younger - we have had some in their twenties being diagnosed.

"The good news is that, like a lot of cancers these days, it is 'very curable' if caught early enough."

Possible causes include lifestyle, particularly smoking and drinking spirits.

Anne, who is helping to organise the exhibition, said: "We want to make people aware that the signs and symptoms can be the same as for the common cold: sore throat, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, swollen neck glands, mouth ulcers. So head and neck cancer can be very difficult to detect."

This is the second event of its type - last year's was held in the hospital and attracted more than 80 visitors.

Anne is hoping that, by holding this year's in the civic centre, more members of the public will call in between10am and 3pm. As well as hearing patients' own experiences, they will also be able to chat to health professionals, get help to stop smoking and advice on good nutrition.