For several months As the World Turns viewers have been expressing concern over a change in Colleen Zenk Pinter's (Barbara Ryan) speech. Online, fans wondered if the actress had suffered a stroke. Others thought that Pinter may have had some sort of dental work. Still, fans feared the worst and flooded with Soap Central with messages asking what was going on. It wasn't until last week when Pinter granted an interview to CBS's Early Show that an answer became available: the actress has been battling cancer.
Back in March, the actress discovered what she believed was a run-of-the-mill canker sore in her mouth. The sore went away, but other sores soon popped up. Pinter immediately contacted her primary physician, who then ordered her to see a specialist. For the next four weeks, the sores were treated as though they were a combination of a bacterial and fungal infection. The sores responded to medication, but they soon returned. It was then that the doctor determined that the sores were something much more serious: Pinter had been stricken by oral cancer.
The news came as a surprise to the 54-year-old actress, who doesn't smoke or drink - two of the biggest risk factors for oral cancer. She is, however, a carrier of the human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that can cause cervical cancer in women. Now doctors also link HPV to oral cancer.
"I was so lucky that it was discovered as Stage II cancer," Pinter explained. "[The doctors] were able to treat me and perform the surgeries on me that still enabled me to have use of my tongue. And I still have my taste buds. It's a very, very invasive kind of procedure."
Over the course of three separate surgeries, half of Pinter's tongue had to be reconstructed. In the first procedure, the lower portion of the right side of Pinter's tongue was removed, leaving just the surface of the tongue. Surgeons used a portion of the left side of the actress' tongue to reconstruct the tongue. In the other two surgeries, radioactive seeds - similar to those used for men with prostate cancer - were implanted into Pinter's tongue.
"I want to thank the fans for the love and support they have sent my way these past months," Pinter said in a statement. "You will never know how much your kind words and encouragement have meant to me. Today I am cancer-free, but my disease is with me every second of every day. My tongue is hard, lumpy, laced with scar tissue and often covered with painful blisters. It affects my speech, how I eat, how I drink and how I kiss my husband. Yet, I am lucky."
Pinter is now cancer-free. However, the actress appeared angry when she learned that a simple check up could have found the cancer earlier. An oral cancer screening can -- and should -- be done at the dentist's office. Dentists and dental hygienists are trained to perform a visual head and neck examination, as well as an oral soft tissue examination. The checkup is painless and takes only a few minutes.
Every year, oral cancer kills more people than cervical, prostate, or skin cancer. If found early, there is a more than 80% survival rate.
Pinter will appear in a public service announcement for the Oral Cancer Foundation on Wednesday, January 16th. For more information, please visit www.oralcancerfoundation.org.