Patient Stories

Head and Neck Cancer Survivor

Dale Cosgrove

  • Dale Cosgrove Head and Neck Cancer SurvivorDiagnosed with tongue cancer in 2003 
  • Treated with chemotherapy and radiation to preserve function
  • Surgery to remove lymph nodes

"I had a swollen lymph node; I thought it was because of a wisdom tooth,” Dale Cosgrove says. “In August 2003, when I went in for a routine physical, my doctor saw the lump on my neck and referred me to a head and neck specialist here in Bellingham. He did a CT scan. It turned out to be a tumor at the base of my tongue.”

Dale talked to family and friends who recommended that he go to a teaching hospital because they are on the leading edge of medical treatments.

“I looked at MD Anderson in Houston, and University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC),” Cosgrove says. “I liked what I saw on the UW’s head and neck surgery Web site. They are ranked as one of the best in the world and they were close to home.”

Dale began treatments at UWMC’s Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Center. His case was discussed at the multidisciplinary head and neck tumor board, in which surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists decide the best course of action.

“He had a mass on the left side of his neck and the base of the tongue,” says Dr. Mary Austin-Seymour, UW radiation oncologist and professor of radiation oncology. “Surgical treatment would have required the removal of the entire tongue. Without the tongue, he would have had no speech or swallowing capabilities. We decided that concomitant chemotherapy and radiation therapy would be the best course of treatment to preserve function and to cure the cancer.”

“Chemotherapy clearly improves the outcome when used in combination with radiotherapy,” says Dr. Renato Martins, SCCA medical oncologist and UW assistant professor of medicine. “A number of national and international studies have shown improvement in survival and disease control with this treatment.”

From November 2003 to January 2004, Cosgrove received radiation therapy five days a week for seven weeks. In between, he was hospitalized for chemotherapy infusion.

The treatment proved successful — the primary tumor in the tongue disappeared. Surgery was later performed to remove his lymph nodes.

“When head and neck tumors spread to the lymph nodes of the neck, it is critical that the disease is eliminated from these nodes as well as the primary site,” says Dr. Neal Futran, UW professor and director of the Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Center. “If enlarged lymph nodes remain, they are removed surgically to make sure there are no live cancer cells still present. Most often we are able to remove the lymph nodes only, without the associated nerves, muscles, and blood vessels. This maintains full head and neck function.”

UWMC provides a multidisciplinary team of head and neck specialists in one location. “Head and neck cancer patients require extensive care and services often not provided at other centers,” Austin-Seymour says. “In addition to surgeons and oncologists, we provide nurses and nurse practitioners, dieticians, and social workers that specialize in the care of head and neck cancer patients.”

Cosgrove is grateful for the care he received. “I can’t say enough about the expert care I received from the doctors, nurses, therapists, and receptionists who were so supportive of me, my wife, and family.”

For more information, read Dale's story in Breakthrough Medicine.

Previously published in the summer/fall 2005 issue of UW Medical Center's newsletter “Breakthrough.”