Close call with cancer

If it wasn’t for an argument with his girlfriend, Christian Patchell might not have found out early enough that he had cancer.

In 2007, the artist was having difficulty finishing meals because of an ulcer on his tongue. “We never argue, but one morning she said I wasn’t taking care of business,” Patchell said. He called for an appointment that day. An MRI and a biopsy later, he was diagnosed with oral cancer. He had a small piece of his tongue removed and began several months of radiation and chemotherapy.

Now in remission, Patchell, 35, doesn’t fit any particular cancer profiles — he doesn’t smoke, and his family has no alarming history of the disease. That’s why he says early detection is so important. “If I would have checked in eight months earlier,” he said, “I couldn’t tell you how my life would be different.”

Dr. David Cognetti, a head and neck cancer specialist at Jefferson’s Department of Otolaryngology, says that doctors are seeing an increase in the number of young people diagnosed with the disease.

Though smoking has always been a risk factor, a recent study by the British Medical Journal identified that head and neck cancers detected in biopsies are increasingly linked to the sexually transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

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