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Proton Therapy for Salivary Gland Cancer | Stan's Story Salivary Gland Cancer

Stan Williams’ battle with cancer began on an idyllic island vacation when he asked his wife Stephanie to take a look at the lump on his neck. 

“How long has that been there?” Stephanie asked.

“Six months? Maybe a year,” replied Stan. 

Not reassured, Stephanie insisted that Stan see his personal physician when they returned to Philadelphia. No more waiting.

Benign or Malignant?

Stan’s family physician was unsure what the lump was  -- but he was unequivocal about Stan’s next step: Contact a Penn Medicine oncologist specializing in head and neck tumors. Get a differential diagnosis to determine whether the lump was benign or possibly cancer.

At Penn, Stan underwent three neck biopsies. All three biopsy reports returned ‘clean’ — meaning no cancer cells were discovered. But despite the good news, Penn physicians encouraged Stan to have the lump removed as a standard precautionary measure, since any lump is abnormal. 

The biopsy results revealed that Stan indeed had a rare salivary gland cancer needing immediate attention. Stan and Stephanie met with Alexander Lin, MD, Chief of Head and Neck Service, Director of Clinical proton Operations in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Penn Medicine. Dr. Alexander thought Stan was an excellent candidate for proton therapy. 

Every Tumor Is Unique

Dr. Alexander explains, “Proton therapy is the most targeted radiation therapy and allows us to deliver the highest radiation dose to a tumor while minimizing damage to surrounding tissues. Treating a salivary tumor is tricky since we want to kill the cancer  -- and also avoid damage to the delicate tissue in the mouth and throat. Since every patient’s tumor and anatomy is different, protons give us a unique advantage.”

A Second Opinion and Back to Penn

 “Before starting treatment, Penn encouraged us to get a second opinion,” says Stan. The couple consulted with another cancer center in the Philadelphia region, but were disappointed to learn that they did not offer proton therapy – offering Stan a traditional treatment that could involve permanent side effects such as losing the ability to taste food.

The couple now knew: Stan would be treated at Penn where the most advanced technology and treatments were the norm.

No Sickness, No Side Effects

Stan went through proton therapy with ease. He didn’t miss a day of work while undergoing therapy, which is remarkable since Stan’s job involves physical strength and labor. 

Stan says, “People are so surprised to learn that I had cancer and went through treatment without anyone even knowing it. Penn has given me a second chance to live my life.”