ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) - Cancer is a word no patient wants to hear. When it is diagnosed, there can be a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about how to treat it.
Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly has been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. Experts say it's the most common cancer of the lining of the mouth and the throat. The good news is big strides have been made in the last decade when it comes to treatment.
The 53-year-old is confident he will beat it.
"When you hear the word cancer it automatically scares the crap out of you," Kelly said. "It's located in one area of my [upper] jaw. But just like with anything, once you get in and they start cutting away and cutting the cancer out they'll figure out how much they have to take."
Dr. Saurin Popat is a head and neck surgical oncologist affiliated with Sisters of Charity Hospital and ECMC.
"When you have a cancer involving the mouth or the throat we're dealing with a lot of important functions. Speaking, swallowing and the aesthetics, the cosmetics of it," Dr. Popat said.
He says there have been tremendous strides made in treating this kind of cancer.
Former county executive Joel Giambra was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1999 before taking office. He says while being a public figure adds more scrutiny, in his case it was very helpful.
"The fact that I was taking on this huge challenge of running county government was a very, very important distraction for me. Being able to take my mind off of my health issues somewhat," Giambra explained.
Kelly says he had been in pain for many months, thinking it was an infection, then was referred to an oral surgeon by his dentist. Now he won't know if he'll be faced with chemotherapy or radiation until after Friday's surgery.
"There has to be a hole that leads from my jawbone into my nasal cavity that has to be filled. So there's bone grafting going to be done," Kelly said.
He adds the cancer was caught early, and that doctors have told him his prognosis is good.
Dr. Popat said, "Our overall survival is well up into the 60 percent. Certainly the smaller the tumor the easier it is to deal with."
Dr. Popat says if caught early enough, with an excellent surgical outcome and follow up treatment, he says people do very well with this type of cancer.
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