Gwynn dies from complications of mouth cancer

Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn died Monday after battling mouth cancer for years. Gwynn, a former resident of Fishers, was 54 years old.

Gwynn had been undergoing cancer treatments and had two surgeries in 2010 and 2012. Doctors believe Gwynn’s death could have been prevented with early detection.

The Hall of Fame outfielder spent his entire 20-year career with the San Diego Padres and was known as one of the game’s greatest hitters.

Gywnn was a 15-time All-Star who admitted that it was his chewing tobacco habit that likely gave him mouth cancer.

Dr. Tod Huntley is an otolaryngologist with Centa at St. Vincent Health.

"If he presented when it was a small little spot, it could have been taken care of easily. It's just that most of these don't present to us until they're at a fairly advanced stage," Huntley said.

Gwynn retired from the Padres in 2001 and became the head baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State University.

He was diagnosed with cancer almost a decade later. In March, Gwynn took a medical leave of absence following his two surgeries.

Doctors who didn’t treat the former major leaguer think that the cancer was likely on the inside of his right cheek.

Experts said 48,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer each year and 8,000 people die annually from the disease -- often tobacco is the culprit.

"These are chemical agents that cause the cancer, in a sense, they're also lifestyle causes that can be corrected. Habits can be changed," Huntley said.

Doctors said that when caught early, oral cancers are preventable -- often with just an office procedure. Early screenings are often performed by dentists during regular cleanings.

Follow Chris Proffitt on Twitter: @chrisproffitt

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